Sometimes, the scoreboard doesn’t really tell what happened.
It was that way here Saturday when 50,196 spectators watched Jim Kelly, football’s $8-million man, make his National Football League debut as the world champion Chicago Bears defeated the Buffalo Bills, 31-17, in their final exhibition game of the season.
Kelly was impressive in his four possessions for Buffalo, especially for someone who hasn’t played in 18 months.
Statistically, the man who snubbed Buffalo three years ago to sign with Houston of the United States Football League completed 5 of 9 passes for 60 yards and also ran the ball 3 times for 32 yards.
“For the first time out in such a long time, I thought I did pretty well,” Kelly said. “They came at us with everything they had, and our guys didn’t flinch. The score is certainly not indicative of how the game was played.”
The Bears, after falling behind, 14-0, while failing to make a first down in the first quarter, scored once after a questionable pass interference call in the end zone and again seconds later after two Bill deep receivers couldn’t decide who should field the kickoff and the Bears got it.
Take those two touchdowns away, and the score would have been about the way the game went: 17-17. The game, at Notre Dame Stadium, ended with Buffalo on the Bears’ three-yard line, out of timeouts.
Mike Ditka thought his Bears played lousy. Hank Bullough thought his Bills looked good.
Ditka, never at a loss for abrasive comments, pulled no punches:
“We need to stop reading the clippings and play football. It’s an understatement to say that we didn’t move the ball. It was an old-fashioned butt-whipping. I was not pleased.
“Cleveland (the Bears’ first regular-season opponent next Sunday) is going to laugh when they see the films,” Ditka said. “I can’t take anything away from the Bills. They came after us well.”
Buffalo had the ball 37 minutes, collected 25 first downs to the Bears’ 18 (four of which came on penalties) and gained 440 yards against 319.
“I’m pleased after seeing what I could from the sidelines but I’ll probably get unhappy as I watch the film,” Bullough said.
Bullough’s quarterbacks, Kelly and Frank Reich, should keep him smiling.
Kelly didn’t get in the game until Reich had given the Bills a 14-0 lead, but when he did he came out firing. He completed his first four passes before the first half ended to set up a field-goal attempt, which was blocked.
At the start of the second half, the Bears put their Super Bowl rush on Kelly, but the former University of Miami All-American scrambled for 14 and then 11 yards to put the Bills in position for another field-goal attempt. Scott Norwood made this one from 25 yards, but that was all for Kelly.
Reich, the former miracle man from Maryland, made the most of his starting assignment with 7 completions in 14 attempts for 156 yards.
“Reich was excellent,” Bullough said. Earlier in the week, Bullough had released both Art Schlichter and Bruce Mathison, last year’s No. 1 quarterback, to make way for Reich, who was injured all of last year, and Kelly, the newcomer.
Reich hit wide receiver Jerry Butler for a 30-yard scoring pass on the Bills’ first possession and also connected with Butler for 46 yards as the game ended with Butler being tackled on the Bear three.
Reich is best remembered as the Maryland quarterback who entered a game in 1984 against Miami, trailing, 31-0, and led the Terrapins to an astounding 42-40 win.
Jim McMahon, the Bears’ No. 1 quarterback, looked rusty after missing the last three exhibition games with a strained hip. He completed 6 of 12 passes for 82 yards and was upstaged by backup QB Mike Tomczak, who hit 8 of 16 for 148 yards.