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The Bears struggled to get out of the regular season and across the Detroit Lions' goal line Sunday.
But in the end, they emerged with a 37-17 victory.
They even managed to provide some extra entertainment in the form of William Perry's long gallop with a fumble recovery. He was hauled down inside the Lions' 20 after rumbling some 40 yards. The Bears took it in from there, with Jim McMahon hitting Ken Margerum for the final TD.
They got a spark when Dennis Gentry returned the second-half kickoff 94 yards for a touchdown. Then they got a scare when middle linebacker Mike Singletary limped off the field in the third quarter with a sprained left knee. It was not believed serious, but it kept him out of the rest of the game.
Walter Payton became the first player to gain more than 2,000 yards in combined rushing and catching yardage three years in a row. He also passed 50 yards to Willie Gault to set up the Bears' first touchdown from scrimmage, a 14-yard scramble by McMahon in the fourth quarter.
Ron Rivera picked up a fumble caused by Richard Dent in the fourth quarter and became the 21st Bears' player to score in their remarkable season. Coach Mike Ditka will take his 15-1 team into the playoffs Jan. 4 or 5 against the winner of the Dec. 29 NFC wild-card game. Ditka joined San Francisco coach Bill Walsh as the only coaches to win 15 games in a regular season.
The Bears were trying to break the record for points allowed of 195 set by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1978, the first year of the 16-game schedule. They entered the game with 181 points allowed, but the Lions scored a touchdown with 11:01 remaining to ruin that goal.
On the third play of the game, Marshall decked starting quarterback Joe Ferguson with a hit that should cure the temptation for opposing quarterbacks to roll out.
Ferguson had made one first down on two passes to Leonard Thompson in front of cornerback Mike Richardson. But when he rolled to Marshall's side while being chased by Perry, he was hit by Marshall as he released the ball with such force that his arms dangled at his side before he landed on the turf.
Ferguson was motionless for several minutes before walking off the field under his own power. He was replaced by Eric Hipple.
A 30-yard pass from McMahon to Payton gave the Bears a first down at the Detroit 17-yard line, but it signaled only the start of problems for the Bears near the goal line.
McMahon was sacked and after Payton made up for it with 12-yard catch to the 10, Matt Suhey was not able to pick up a first down. Kevin Butler kicked a 25-yard field goal to make it 3-0.
It gave Butler 134 points for the season, breaking the National Football League's record for rookies set by Gale Sayers in 1965. Sayers had 132 points. Hipple tried to hit Thompson deep on the next series, and Richardson made a leaping over-the-shoulder interception and a 55-yard runback to the Detroit 40. The highlight of the runback was a stupendous block by Perry on guard Keith Dorney that knocked the 270-pound Dorney on his rear and out of the game for a series.
The Bears took over at the Detroit 40 and made a first down at the 29. But after an incompletion to Gault and a sack by Keith Ferguson, Butler missed a 50-yard field goal attempt, ending his consecutive streak at 13.
The Lions tied the score at 3-3 on a 42-yard field goal after Payton fumbled at the Chicago 33.
The Bears were quickly back into Detroit territory on a 38-yard pass from McMahon to Dennis McKinnon and an 18-yard pass to tight end Tim Wrightman.
But on first down at the Detroit 25, McMahon's pass intended for Wrightman was intercepted on a nice catch by cornerback Bobby Watkins at the 9-yard line.
After a 33-yard pass to Pete Mandley got the Lions some breathing room, running back Alvin Moore fumbled and Singletary recovered at the Detroit 44.
On third down, the Lions blitzed and Gault apparently missed an adjustment in his route. McMahon threw over the middle and Gault ran down the sideline. Cornerback Bruce McNorton made an easy interception.
Ditka yelled at McMahon and offensive coordinator Ed Hughes walked toward Gault on the sideline.
The next time the Bears got the ball, Ditka tried to pound it over the goal line on the ground. That failed, too, after some early success.
Payton and Suhey ran on eight of 10 plays, and Payton was stopped by Ferguson on third and 3 from the 7-yard line.
Butler kicked a 24-yard field goal to make it 6-3 with 1:57 left in the half.
The Bears got the ball one more time in Detroit territory, the sixth time in seven possessions in the first half.
It was after Perry forced a fumble by James Jones, and Richard Dent recovered at the Detrot 26. McMahon dropped the ball on first down, but the Bears recovered in time for Butler to try another 50-yard field goal before the half ended. It was wide.
Gentry finally got the Bears into the end zone with his kickoff return to start the second half. Gentry bobbled the ball at the 6-yard line, cut from left to right and benefitted from an apparent undetected clip by teammate Ron Rivera.
Gentry tightroped the final 40 yards down the sideline and made it 13-3. It was the first kickoff return for a touchdown against the Lions since 1980 when Dave Williams ended an overtime game with a 95-yarder.
The joy turned to apprehension three plays later when Singletary was hurt on a third-down tackle. After several anxious moments, he walked off with a limp and was replaced by Ron Rivera.
The Bears drove 80 yards to the Detroit 4-yard line and had to settle for Butler's third field goal when two passes fell incomplete from the 4.
On second down, McMahon had to call timeout to avoid confusion. Then Suhey fell down trying to adjust to McMahon's pass. On third down, McMahon was blitzed and overthrew a covered Gault.
Butler hit from 21 yards to make it 16-3 with 4:23 left in the third quarter.