A furious Mike Ditka wasted no time Sunday in letting the Chicago Bears know that he is anything but pleased at the way they’re playing.
Considering that his 15-1 Bears had just tied the NFL record for most victories in a regular season with a 37-17 win over the Detroit Lions in front of 74,042 at the Silverdome, what Ditka might have said had they lost staggers the imagination.
“We absolutely could not have beaten a playoff team,” Ditka said after it took a 94-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Dennis Gentry at the start of the second half to get the Bears going. “We would have been eliminated, plain and simply.
“It took us four quarters for our offense to outscore our defense and special teams. There’s no way you’re going to win in the playoffs like that.
“It was just lousy play and lousy execution. Maybe these guys are going into the ‘Super Bowl Shuffle’ a little early. The way we’re playing, we’ll never get to the Super Bowl.
“I’m aggravated. I’m not satisfied. And if any players are satisfied, they’re in for a big surprise. I’m extremely concerned about this team. We’re going to have to get better.”
All this about a Chicago team which locked up the NFC Central Division title and a home-field advantage for the playoffs five weeks ago and which Sunday equalled the 15-1 record set by the 1984 San Francisco 49ers.
Running back Walter Payton also entered the record books, Sunday, becoming the first player in NFL history to go over 2,000 total yards in three consecutive seasons. Against the Lions, Payton rushed for 81 yards on 17 carries, caught 4 passes for 55 yards. He also threw a 50-yard pass.
Payton finished the regular season with 2,034 total yards.
It was Gentry, however, who turned the game around.
“I thought it was a close football game,” said Detroit Coach Darryl Rogers, whose team finished at 7-9. “The kickoff return hurt us. It was an excellent return. It was blocked well.”
With the Bears leading 6-3 on the strength of two Kevin Butler field goals, Gentry took Eddie Murray’s second-half kickoff at the 6-yard line and sprinted virtually untouched into the end zone.
Chicago quarterback Jim McMahon scrambled 14 yards for a touchdown at 1:16 of the fourth quarter and Bear linebacker Don Rivera returned a Detroit fumble five yards for a touchdown just 28 seconds later to give Chicago a 30-10 lead.
A 59-yard fumble return by William (The Refrigerator) Perry set up the Bears’ final score, an 11-yard toss from McMahon to Ken Margerum with 2:00 remaining.
“I saw the ball loose an I said to myself, ‘Go!’ ” Perry said. “You better believe I ran out of gas. I must have run 60 or 70 yards, and it was the fourth quarter. By the fourth quarter, everybody was out of steam.”
The Lions, who scored their first touchdown on a two-yard pass from Eric Hipple to David Lewis in the third quarter, got a two-yard scoring run from James Jones in the fourth quarter.
Butler finished with three field goals on kicks of 25, 24 and 21 yards. Murray was good from 42 yards out.