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With surprising ease, the Bears destroyed the Dallas Cowboys 44-0 Sunday to win their 11th game in a row and clinch the NFC Central Division title. They did it without quarterback Jim McMahon, but not without their defense.
The smashing victory provided coach Mike Ditka with a homecoming present in his first regular-season visit to Texas Stadium since he coached under Tom Landry for nine years.
Dennis Gentry`s 16-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter made the one-sided battle a total embarrassment for Cowboys. It was the worst defeat in the team`s 25-year history and the first time the Cowboys had been shut out since 1970.
The rout was so complete that Ditka was able to rest starting quarterback Steve Fuller for the last 10:24 and play rookie Mike Tomczak.
After the defense took total control in the first half, Walter Payton gained 100 yards for the sixth game in a row, one short of the NFL record. Payton finished up with 131 rushing yards in 22 carries.
The Bears` defense blasted open a tight game late in the first quarter by scoring the first two touchdowns and setting up the third.
They knocked out Dallas quarterback Danny White to even up the quarterback count. Then they intercepted two of Gary Hogeboom`s first three passes and turned the fair-weather Dallas fans against their beloved team.
White returned to start the second half.
Maury Buford`s punts kept the Bears` offense out of trouble and set up the defense for the kill.
Ditka opened the game with an attempted bomb from Fuller to Willie Gault that fell incomplete. The Bears managed only one first down on their first four possessions.
But after taking over at the Dallas 45 when cornerback Mike Richardson forced Mike Renfro to fumble, Buford took advantage of the field position and nailed a punt out of bounds at the Dallas 3-yard line.
White dropped into his end zone to pass and defensive end Dan Hampton made a sensational play. He cartwheeled his blocker, tackle Jim Cooper, and jumped up in White`s face to bat the ball. It popped into the air and defensive end Richard Dent made another great play by leaping for the interception at the 1-yard line.
Dent staggered into the end zone for the touchdown.
The next time White handled the ball, Dent sacked him for 6 yards. On the play after that, White dropped the snap and was sacked again.
After punting, the Bears` offense got into the swing by driving for a field goal. Payton carried for 10 yards on a third and 4. On a third and 8, Fuller rolled left and flipped a 28-yard pass to tight end Tim Wrightman at the 20-yard line.
The drive stalled and Kevin Butler connected on a 44-yard field goal, his longest as a pro.
Two plays later, linebacker Otis Wilson blitzed White and the quarterback was knocked out when he hit the turf.
Hogeboom`s first pass was nearly intercepted by safety Dave Duerson. When the Cowboys got the ball back, the Bears confused Hogeboom by shifting from a 4-3 alignment into a 3-4 just before the snap. With Wilson blitzing, Hogeboom unloaded into the teeth of a zone and Richardson made an easy interception and a 36-yard runback for a touchdown.
The Cowboys tried to get back into the game on the next play and Hogeboom`s bomb for Tony Hill was intercepted by cornerback Leslie Frazier, who returned it 33 yards to the 48.
Dallas tight end Doug Cosbie, the only receiver to hurt the Bears in the first half, suffered a twisted neck on Frazier`s runback.
A swing pass from Fuller to fullback Matt Suhey was good for 35 yards to the Dallas 16. Fuller threw a strike to Gault on a post pattern and Gault made a nice catch at the 2-yard line.
Ditka sent William ``the Refrigerator`` Perry into the lineup. Fuller had to call timeout when Payton and Perry were confused about where to line up.
On first down, Payton went in motion and Perry took a handoff to the 1-yard line, right in front of a sign that said: ``Wake up the Maytag repairman. The Refrigerator`s gonna need him.``
Fuller scored on the next play by sneaking over the top and it was 24-0 with 2:58 left in the half.