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Bear defense leads rout of Bills; QB verdict still out
Bring in Judge Wapner to decide the Bears' starting quarterback question. Five preseason games have provided inconclusive evidence from plaintiffs Jim Harbaugh and Mike Tomczak.
The Bears' final dress rehearsal for the 1990 season featured opportunistic play by the defense (three interceptions, three sacks and one fumble recovery) and improved execution by the offense in a 35-7 victory over the Buffalo Bills Thursday night.
The crowd of 51,238 at Williams-Brice Stadium on a hot, humid night was the largest for an NFL exhibition in South Carolina.
"It was a good note to finish on," said coach Mike Ditka. "We had a good week of practice, and it showed. There were still too many mistakes, but we played a lot better. Some of the (roster) decisions are going to get harder and harder."
Ditka must trim to the 47-man regular-season limit by Monday.
"I put about as much importance on this game as I did last week (a 20-3 loss to the Raiders), but you play these games with the idea of trying to improve, and we did get better in a lot of areas."
"I was proud of the way they played, the way they hit, the way they went after the ball on defense. We have a lot of good things to build on."
Harbaugh (3 of 6 for 53 yards) and Tomczak (6 of 7 for 51 yards and 1 TD) both performed efficiently, leaving few clues for Ditka to decide who should start in the season opener against Seattle Sept. 9.
"I think I played consistent football, and that was my goal going into camp," said Tomczak. "I was pleased with the way everything went. What happens from here on is Mike Ditka's decision. I will not worry about it."
Tomczak and Harbaugh rotated preseason starts. Harbaugh got three, including Thursday's. Tomczak played only half of the second quarter. Rookie Peter Tom Willis worked the entire second half.
"It is hard to get in a rhythm, but you have to play hard and hope for the best," said Tomczak.
The Bears closed the preseason with an impressive 4-1 record. The Bills, who play host to the Colts Sept. 9, wound up 0-4 and left coach Marv Levy with a bad taste.
"I'm sick and humiliated about how our team played," he said. "I apologize to the people of South Carolina and to the Buffalo Bulls fans."
Bear rookie Johnny Bailey was electrifying again with two TD runs in the final two minutes, the first for 34 yards and then a 1-yard TD set up by linebacker Mickey Pruitt's 41-yard interception return. He rushed 11 times for 65 yards.
"As long as those guys up front at least give me a small crease, I can do something with it," said Bailey, who had four preseason TDs in three games. "They have been doing a great job for me."
Neal Anderson, who had been held to a 2.4 preseason rushing average, ran for 38 yards on 10 carries and one TD in the first half.
The Bears took advantage of the game's first turnover to take an early 7-0 lead.
Pinned down at their 1-yard line by a 53-yard Maury Buford punt, the Bills tried to throw from their 3 on second down, but Jim Kelly's pass was deflected by linebacker Jim Morrissey and intercepted by rookie free safety Mark Carrier.
From the 5, fullback Brad Muster burst up the middle to the 1, then leaped into the end zone on the next play.
"Carrier can play anytime for me," said Ditka. "He is going to make some mistakes, but he is going to make some plays, and I guarantee you he will stick his nose in there."
On the second play from scrimmage following the kickoff, Bills rookie running back Kenneth Davis fumbled and Trace Armstrong recovered at the Buffalo 26.
A nine-play drive, highlighted by Harbaugh's 9-yard pass to Ron Morris and an 8-yard scramble by Harbaugh, culminated with Anderson's 1-yard TD run behind the bulldozing block of fullback Scott Williams. Kevin Butler's extra point made it 14-0 with 2:43 left in the first period.
The Bills then drove to the Bear 20 before a 38-yard field-goal try by Scott Norwood sailed wide.
Tomczak took over for Harbaugh with 7:15 left in the second quarter and directed an 80-yard drive capped by a 2-yard play-action pass to tight end James Coley for a 21-0 lead. "I was the middle reliever," said Tomczak.
Two plays earlier, Tomczak had thrown an apparent interception into the hands of James Williams. But Buffalo's Timmy Cofield was whistled for unnecessary roughness on Tomczak, and the Bears had a first down on the 7. After a 4-yard pass to tight end Cap Boso and a 1-yard run by Mark Green, Tomczak rolled left and passed to a wide-open Coley in the end zone.
Veteran receiver Dennis Gentry caught a key 20-yard pass on third and 5 to keep the drive going.
Willis (6 of 11, 34 yards, 1 interception, sacked twice) saw his first game action in two weeks when he took over for Tomczak to start the second half.
The Bills finally got on the board early in the fourth quarter following a Bailey fumble. A 5-yard TD run by fullback Larry Kinnebrew capped the 38-yard drive. But the Bears struck for two more late scores by Bailey to finish off the two-time defending AFC East champs.