The Bears wrung the necks of the Dallas Cowboys Sunday and tightened the chokehold they have on the National Football League. They are beginning to put the squeeze on history.
They smashed the Cowboys 44-0 in a game that was just as close as the score indicated. They played the defense of their dreams and handed the Cowboys their worst defeat ever.
The Bears clinched the National Football Conference's Central Division title earlier than anyone ever has clinched a title in a 16-game schedule. Then they started talking about home-field advantage for the playoffs, as if they needed one. It was their 11th straight victory, matching their 1942 11-0 season.
They proved they can thrive without injured quarterback Jim McMahon, who, after all, does not play defense.
Bears' coach Mike Ditka beat his mentor, Dallas coach Tom Landry, and called it "no big deal." But he gave game balls to every Bear on the team and promised to gold-plate one for back-up quarterback Steve Fuller. The Bears had not defeated Dallas in six tries since 1971, when Ditka played for Landry.
"Everybody wanted it, more so for Mike," said running back Walter Payton, who made history of his own with 132 yards to reach his ninth 1,000-yard season. He had been tied at eight with former Pittsburgh Steelers' star Franco Harris.
"It seemed like the energy and electricity from him just flowed into the other players," Payton added. "This one was for Mike."
"He downplayed it, but it was written on his face," said safety Dave Duerson.
"I would like to see him smile," said Fuller. "Late in the game I said, 'I think it's okay for you to go ahead and let out a big smile.' And he still wouldn't."
The way the Bears played defense was no laughing matter. Defensive end Richard Dent and cornerback Mike Richardson scored the Bears' first two touchdowns on interceptions, the first off starter Danny White and the second off sub Gary Hogeboom.
Linebacker Otis Wilson knocked White cold in the first half. When White came back, Wilson put him out again with a "jammed neck."
"I put the wood on him," said Wilson.
Richardson intercepted Hogeboom's second pass for his touchdown, and cornerback Leslie Frazier intercepted Hogeboom's third pass to set up a touchdown sneak by Fuller before the half that made it 24-0.
Kevin Butler hit a 44-yard field goal in the first half and kept the pressure on with field goals of 46 and 22 yards in the third and fourth quarters. The long one came after William Perry was penalized for trying to pick up Payton and shot-put him into the end zone from the 2-yard line.
It is illegal to aid a runner like that, although Payton might have been the first player to score a touchdown while carrying a refrigerator on his back.
"I didn't know what was going on," said Payton.
Neither did Perry, who said, "If they didn't call me for holding or something, I believe we both would have got into the end zone."
Ditka called off the dogs in the final 10 minutes, letting rookie quarterback Mike Tomczak direct scoring drives that ended in a 17-yard touchdown run by sub Calvin Thomas and a 16-yarder by another sub, Dennis Gentry.
The Cowboys had suffered only one other regular-season shutout, 38-0 against St. Louis in 1970, again when Ditka played for Landry.
"Our defense, what can you say?" asked Ditka. "They took the football game away from them. It was just a matter of the offense mopping up. It was awesome to see."
For Landry, it was so awful to see that he failed to recognize what he had seen.
"I would like to see what would have happened if we had played a good football game. You can't take anything away from the Bears, but we didn't play good football," said Landry.
Like his team, he missed the point. The Cowboys had trouble playing good football because the Bears were stuffing it down their throats.
The Cowboys never made more than two first downs in a series. They gained only 171 yards. Tony Dorsett got only 44, including 22 on the first play. Tony Hill, the league's leading receiver, caught two passes for 15 yards. Tight end Doug Cosbie left the game in the first half with a twisted neck.
After Maury Buford's fourth straight great punt had pinned the Cowboys on their 2-yard line late in the first quarter, defensive end Dan Hampton cartwheeled tackle Jim Cooper with a swing of his right arm, leaped into White's face in the end zone and batted a pass into the air.
"I thought Hampton had knee problems, but I see he don't if he can jump that high," said Dent, who leaped higher and grabbed the ball like a rebound. "I didn't think anybody else noticed where the ball was. My intention wasgetting it before anybody else noticed it."
Dent made a 1-yard lunge for the touchdown that was the beginning of the end.
Dent sacked White on the Cowboys' next play, and Wilson sacked him again on the play after that. On the second play of the next series, Wilson drilled White to the floor of Texas Stadium and Hogeboom came in.
On his second series, the Bears shifted from a 4-3 defensive front to a 3-4 just before the snap. Such shifting fouled up the Cowboys' blocking assignments all day. Wilson and Dent blitzed and Hogeboom threw right to Richardson.
"Mike and I had talked about that formation Saturday night," said middle linebacker Mike Singletary.
They had decided to change coverage assignments against Cowboy wide receiver Mike Renfro, with Richardson dropping off and Singletary picking him up. Renfro broke his pattern and slowed down when he saw it.
"Mike was standing there where the guy maybe should have been. Pumped it right to him," said Singletary. "Same play we'd been dreaming about."
Richardson had been reluctant to make the change. He was coming off a two-game absence because of a hamstring injury, and the Cowboys were picking on him. But he soon had his first interception runback for a touchdown, another dream come true.
"Yes, when things like that start happening, you begin to wonder," said Richardson, whose return covered 36 yards.
"It's going to take quite an effort by somebody to get in our way right now," said center Jay Hilgenberg.
"We're destined," said Duerson.
"This team hasn't reached its potential yet," said Payton. "I keep saying that."
And the Bears keep proving it.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times