It doesn't really seem fair. While the New York Giants and San Francisco 49ers were knocking each other's brains out on Wild-Card Sunday, the Chicago Bears were at home healing the wounds of a 16-game season. And then they spent the best part of last week running on the soft Bermuda grass at the Atlanta Falcons' training complex in Suwanee, Ga., recharging the motor that could carry them through the playoffs and Super Bowl XX.
Healthy and rested, the Bears beat the Giants 21—0 in Round 1 of the three-round fight Sunday in Chicago. The game wasn't close even when the Bears held a 7-0 lead—compliments of a gimme five-yard touchdown off a muffed punt by Sean Landeta, who apparently grazed the ball—and New York was threatening to tie things at the end of the first half. The Giants had a first and goal at the two with 31 seconds left. They threw three incompletes, and Eric Schubert missed a field goal. They never threatened again.
Joe Morris, the dazzling little halfback, was the Giants' weapon, their TD man, with 21 of them in the regular season, but this was no time for running backs. Morris gained only 30 yards in 10 carries in the first half, and he was suffering from a slight concussion from a blind-side hit administered by 308-pound William Perry. It wasn't much of a time for passing, either. Phil Simms produced four completions for 13 throws, good for 48 yards net. New York couldn't block the waves of Bear pass rushers. The Giants had five straight series of three-downs-and-out, and they had given up on Morris, their biggest weapon.
In the third quarter, while the Giants were running four more three-downs-and-punt series, the Bears drove for two touchdowns—and the game was a 21-0 wrap.
January 13, 1986
All week the Bears had figured they would win and win big. You could sense it in the relatively balmy air in Suwanee while they were getting healthy. Oh, they didn't say it in so many words. It's not cool to talk like that with the playoffs coming. But it was in the air.
"You don't know what it means, being down here in a place like this, where there's soft grass to run on instead of hard artificial turf," said free safety Gary Fencik. "It's like watching a whole rejuvenation process taking place. Take a guy like [flanker] Dennis McKinnon. Early in the year, when our offense was pretty explosive, [Jim] McMahon-to-McKinnon really clicked. Then Dennis had leg problems and we went into a slump. Now he's coming back—at just the right time. We all know that we need a big game out of McKinnon."
McKinnon is one of those hungry receivers who become dangerous when they're near the goal line. Against the Giants he caught only three passes for 52 yards, but two were for the scores that put the game away in the third quarter. The first was a strange kind of operation. Dennis Gentry, the backup halfback, was in the area deep down the right side. So were McKinnon and a bunch of Giants. McMahon lofted a 23-yarder into the mob, Gentry reached for the ball, Giants cornerback Elvis Patterson got his hands on it—and McKinnon went up and tore it away from him.
"Man, I can hardly wait to see the films," McMahon said. "Everything was cluttered in there; Gentry had his arms out to catch the ball and McKinnon wound up with it."
The last touchdown, a 20-yarder, was a nifty read by McMahon. The Giants rushed two linebackers from down-lineman positions and provided additional heat by sending Lawrence Taylor blitzing in clean up the middle, just as you would draw it on the chalkboard. McMahon read it and checked off to a slant-in pass to McKinnon off a short drop, and his quick zip was worth another six points.
It was the crusher for a Giant defense that hung in for a while but finally crumbled under the load of having to carry an offense that produced zero. The story of the Giants' futility was reflected in their numbers at the end of three quarters. Thirty-six plays had produced three first downs. Simms was a pathetic six for 20 passing, for 80 yards. He had been sacked four times (and would be twice more) for minus 45. Net passing yardage: 35. Third-down conversions: 0 for 9. And Morris was hurting. "A terrible lick by William," said defensive right end Richard Dent, who led the Bear pass rushers with 3½ sacks. "Anytime you get a lick from 300 pounds in motion, coming from the blind side, you've just got to be hurting."
Two of Dent's sacks came from wide inside loops, with Simms set in a deep drop—a definite no-no against the Bear defense. He got another one and a piece of a fourth when linebackers Otis Wilson and Wilber Marshall rushed from the other side, leaving Simms no escape route. At times, Simms tried to shorten his drop and throw, but it's pretty tough to change an entire offensive scheme on short notice.
"It's almost impossible to prepare for our defense in one week," said the Bears' defensive coach, Buddy Ryan. "I've had a lot of coaches tell me that. Two weeks, yes. One week, no."
The Bears added a new wrinkle to their notorious 46 defense, pulling Perry, substituting nickelback Shaun Gayle and rushing Marshall and Wilson from defensive end spots.
"All I'm doing with that," Ryan said, "is getting my five best pass rushers coming at once, across the board."
Simms tried to attack it with wide receiver Phil McConkey taking Gayle deep into the post, but the Bears' rush plus a stiff wind turned that operation into zero completions in five tries until late in the fourth quarter. "Everything worked to our advantage," Wilson said. "Our fans, our great weather, our great team. That should be enough."
The great weather, which the Los Angeles Rams will taste this Sunday in the NFC championship game was 14° at kickoff, with a wind chill of—13, about average for Soldier Field in January. It was nippy enough to cause McMahon to play with baseball batting gloves on. Simms also used gloves, but unlike McMahon he didn't have extensive practice with them.
"I love 'em," McMahon said. "I can throw a spiral with them. I think I'll wear them for the rest of my career."
"What kind of gloves?" someone wanted to know.
"Black gloves." he said.
The way the Bears were playing defense he could have used a catcher's mitt. Middle linebacker Mike Singletary called the Bears' performance—they held the Giants to only 181 yards for the day—their best of the season. "I'd grade it 8½ on a scale of 10," he said. "I'm looking for a 9½ next week, and I think you might see a 10 before it's all over."