The next mission for the Bears' defense, if they choose to accept it, is to break their own National Football League record for fewest points allowed in a season.
They faced every challenge Monday night, avenging last year's 41-0 embarrassment to San Francisco by edging the 49ers 10-9 in front of 65,293 noisy and exhilarated fans at Soldier Field.
The 1986 Bears' defense held their opponents to an average of 11.6 points a game. This year's team is holding its foes to 10.4 points a game. The Bears have held their opponents to 10 points or less in the last five games. That's the first time the Bears have done that since 1942.
"Without a doubt, there are no superstars on our defense. It's just everybody doing their own job," said strong safety Dave Duerson. "You have to give credit to our corners. Those guys have taken a lot of heat and they're playing some big-time football."
The Bears ended the 49ers' NFL record-tying 11-game road winning streak, and improved their own record to 7-1, retaining their National Football Conference Central Division lead of two games over Minnesota.
The Bears' defense sacked Joe Montana (13 for 29, 168 yards, one TD and one interception) four times and withstood a last-minute drive when quarterback Steve Young relieved Montana.
With three minutes left in the game and a one-point lead, the Bears went for it on fourth down at their own 45. But rookie fullback Brad Muster was stopped for no gain and the 49ers took over on downs with 2:51 left.
"I thought for sure they were offsides on the play. But fortunately our defense pulled us out again," said center Jay Hilgenberg.
With no timeouts remaining, the 49ers came up short on their final drive. A fourth-down pass from Young to Roger Craig brought the 49ers to the 46-yard line, a yard short of a first down. The Bears then ran out the clock.
"We were real fortunate to win the football game, the way we played offensively," said coach Mike Ditka, whose team was held scoreless in the second half. "We made too many mistakes. We used some bad judgment as coaches in a couple situations. But we didn't do anything bad on defense. You just can't say enough about how well they played.
"I don't know how good we are; I don't even care how good we are. If we continue to play with the attitude we had tonight, we'll make it interesting for everybody. I know we'll show up every Sunday, I know that for sure.
"The leader of our defense was (coordinator) Vince Tobin," said Ditka. He does one outstanding job. I've never seen a team better prepared. I asked him before the game what he thought and he said, 'Coach, we're ready.' "
The Bears led 10-7 at the half after Kevin Butler kicked an 18-yard field goal as time expired. Duerson intercepted a Montana pass at the 49ers' 36-yard line to set up the score. Runs of 13 and eight yards by Neal Anderson (62 yards on 16 carries) and a pass intereference call on Riki Ellison in the end zone keyed the drive.
From the 1, the Bears were stymied. Anderson rushed once for no gain. Then he tried to leap over the line, only to be stopped in midleap by Kevin Fagan for a 1-yard loss. A holding penalty by the 49ers' Daniel Stubbs gave the Bears another first down at the 1. But Jim McMahon threw an incompletion out of the end zone as the seconds wound down and the Bears were out of timeouts. Butler then came in for the go-ahead field goal.
The 49ers had taken a 7-0 lead with 6:51 left in the first quarter on a 23-yard pass from Montana to Jerry Rice.
Montana completed five of six passes on the 88-yard drive that took less than three minutes. Rice caught three passes in the march, including one for 45 yards on third down that set up the 49ers on the Bears' 35. Duerson blitzed on the play and Rice beat rookie free safety David Tate on a double-team zone. A 13-yard pass to Rice in front of cornerback Mike Richardson moved it to the 23. After an incompletion, Montana found Rice across the middle at the three and he dragged Duerson into the end zone for the score. Mike Cofer's conversion made it 7-0.
Craig entered the game as the leading rusher in the NFL after last week's 190-yard performance. But Craig carried the ball only twice for minus-1 yard in the first quarter. By the end of the half, Craig had three carries for minus-2 yards and he wound up with 31 yards on 10 carries.
"It was a tremendous game and I give a tremendous amount of credit to Chicago's defense," said San Francisco coach Bill Walsh. "Our team played a great game, also. We played as hard as we could, they played as hard as theycould. We just couldn't get it done. Chicago is a great football team."
The Bears tied the game 7-7 with 3:28 left until halftime. McMahon scored on a quarterback sneak after a 32-yard pass to Anderson put the ball on the 1. McMahon threaded a perfect pass as Anderson beat Jeff Fuller.
The Bears were hoping McMahon would be the difference in this year's game. A hamstring injury rendered him unavailable in last year's game with the 49ers. He completed 10 of 22 passes for 132 yards and one TD Monday night. He threw one interception.
Walsh knew his team, now 5-3, could not afford a loss Monday.
"We have Minnesota next, which as you know as somehow got our number," said Walsh. "We then have the Redskins, and then we have New Orleans and the Rams again. All we can do is take them one at a time. There isn't any one big game on our schedule this year because they are all so damn big. We had one game we should have won and we lost that one. That was to Atlanta. We might be the spoilers this year, we don't know."
McMahon was trapped in his end zone for a safety early in the third period to draw the 49ers to within 10-9.
San Francisco punter Barry Helton pinned the Bears in on the 6-yard line. After Matt Suhey gained one yard, McMahon dropped back to pass and was sacked by Charles Haley and Larry Roberts.
The Bears failed to score in the third period, continuing their year-long drought.
Cofer missed a 51-yard field goal attempt against the wind in the fourth period that would have given the 49ers the lead.
"We put our defense up against the wall so many times tonight. I've never seen a better effort," said Ditka.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times