The Bears hailed the 49ers as the best and flailed them like all the rest Sunday. By a score of 26-10, they staked their latest legitimate claim to the top of the National Football League.
``It`s only for a week, but we`re pretty good right now,`` said coachMike Ditka, who had praised the world champion 49ers while plotting theirburial.
It didn`t totally make up for last year`s 23-0 loss in the NFC titlegame and it won`t help them next Monday night against the Packers in SoldierField. But it made them feel awfully good for the moment, which they grabbedfor all it was worth.
Not since 1942 has a Bears` team been 6-0. They are a prime-time act,cantankerous and convincing, carrying the memories of elephants and anattitude to match.
They even unveiled their elephant backfield in the last seconds,letting 325-pound defensive tackle William Perry play fullback and carry theball on the final two plays of the game.
``I just wanted to see if he could run with it,`` said Ditka.
``I was looking for the end zone,`` said Perry. ``When the 49ers sawthat I was the ballcarrier, their eyes got real big.``
It was a 325-pound love letter to the 49ers and coach Bill Walsh, whohad used 265-pound guard Guy McIntyre as a blocking back for a play or two in last January`s title game.
From the national anthem to killing the clock, Ditka refuses to getupstaged. Against the Minnesota Vikings in game three, Ditka ordered histroops to slap their hands over their hearts after Minnesota coach Bud Granthad extolled the manners of the Vikings during ``The Star-Spangled Banner.``
Now the Bears are three games up on their three closest NFC CentralDivision rivals, whom they play during the next four weeks.
``Today was our day,`` said Ditka. ``A great win for us. We beat aheckuva football team. We challenged them with our offensive and defensivelines. That`s as good as we can play. The lines got the game balls.``
Jim McMahon passed to a quick 16-0 lead and the defense squeezed the49ers dry, holding them to 45 yards and only 3 first downs in the second half. To make certain they wouldn`t stir in the final quarter, Walter Payton ranthem down.
The 49ers had closed to 16-10 by halftime and were looking to make amove in the third quarter when the Bears ended it with a classic touchdowndrive in the final quarter that was vintage Payton.
``Walter had fire in his eyes in the huddle,`` said flanker KenMargerum.
``Everybody knows we can count on Walter,`` said McMahon. ``He`s still a big part of this offense.``
Kevin Butler`s fourth field goal made it 19-10 with 13:09 left in thegame. He hit from 34, 38, 27, and 29 yards, two of them coming after 49erfumbles.
``I thought the kicking game would play a big role because you justdon`t pull out on the 49ers,`` said Butler.
With 11:14 to play and plenty of time for 49er quarterback Joe Montana to come alive, Payton ran the ball 9 times for 52 yards in a 13-play, 66-yard touchdown drive that consumed 7:33. When he skirted left end for the final 17 yards and his second touchdown of the day, the 49ers had only 3:41 left.
All they could do was lick the wounds of a puzzling 3-3 start aftertheir 15-1 Super Bowl season.
``I`m here to report that we got a sound beating today,`` said Walsh.
``Unfortunately, when the 49ers beat us last year, they didn`t showmuch courtesy or dignity,`` said Payton. ``They said negative things about our offense after shutting us out. We thought about that all during the offseason. A team of All-Pros couldn`t have stopped us.``
Payton finished with 132 yards in 24 carries, his biggest day of theseason despite Ditka`s game plan that called for passes on 15 of the first 20 plays.
``I was not going to come out and play them the way we played lastyear,`` said Ditka. ``I was going to establish something and make them fearsomething and that was the pass. We were not going to run, run, run, punt.``
The Bears averaged 5.9 yards on first down, more than doubling lastyear`s output of 2.5 yards against the 49ers. They did it by passing on 13 of their 17 first downs in the first half and by running on 9 of their 13 firstdowns in the second half, a beautifully balanced performance.
``We remembered to pack our offense this time,`` said tackle JimboCovert. ``Last year they embarrassed us and they made it known that theyembarrassed us. They tried to rub it in. They said some things we didn`treally appreciate.
``They said to come back when we could bring our offense. We figuredwe`d bring our offense and we`re just lucky to get out of here alive, youknow?``
The 49ers` only touchdown came on a 43-yard interception run by safety Carlton Williamson, who picked off an ill-advised McMahon pass.
The Bears` defense played its best game of the season, sacking Montana seven times and knocking the 49er receivers off their synchronized passroutes.
Defensive tackle Steve McMichael put three-time Pro Bowl guard RandyCross into the dark ages with a ferocious rush that disrupted everythingMontana tried to do. If Cross is in the Pro Bowl, McMichael was in anotherleague on Sunday.
End Richard Dent and linebacker Wilber Marshall had two sacks apiece.McMichael, strong safety Dave Duerson, and linebacker Otis Wilson had theothers. Cornerbacks Mike Richardson and Leslie Frazier bumped the 49erreceivers off their patterns.
Only one other time in Walsh`s career has his famous offense failed to score a touchdown. That was during the 1983 regular season, when the Bearsbeat the 49ers 13-3.
``When we play our defense the way Buddy Ryan designs it, we cancontrol teams,`` said Duerson.
McMahon needed only six plays to put the Bears up 7-0. He moved theoffense without flanker Dennis McKinnon or tight end Emery Moorehead, stars of past games who were nursing leg injuries.
Instead, tight end Tim Wrightman found the open spaces in the 49erzones and caught passes for 24 and 26 yards in the first quarter when theBears built a 13-0 lead.
The Bears cashed in on field goals after a punt, a fumble by tight end Russ Francis, and a fumble by halfback Wendell Tyler.
By the time Butler`s third field goal made it 16-0, the Bears had run23 plays to only 7 for the 49ers. The shaky 49ers were penalized 13 times,including five times in six plays during their first possession of the thirdquarter.
On Williamson`s interception, McMahon said he called the wrong passroute to split end Willie Gault. The play was supposed to be a pass tofullback Matt Suhey. McMahon was blitzed by linebacker Todd Shell and safetyRonnie Lott covered Suhey. McMahon thought Lott had left an open middle. ButGault wasn`t there and Williamson was. It was the only thing that made thegame close.
``We have the talent to win every ballgame,`` said McMahon.
``You have to use the world champions as a barometer,`` said Ditka.``We took a giant step when we beat the Raiders last year when they wereworld champions. Hopefully, we`ll take a giant step by beating the 49ers.``
They did as soon as McMahon stepped out of the locker room. He had tobe carried out after the Raiders` victory last year because of a kidney injury that ended his season.