New England, struggling to stay in the NFL playoff picture, plays a division leader for the third consecutive today. Patriot Coach Raymond Berry is delighted.
Two Sundays ago, Cincinnati was 6-0 but lost to the Patriots, 27-21. Last Sunday, Buffalo was 6-1 and needed a field goal with 13 seconds left to nip the Patriots, 23-20.
Today, the Chicago Bears are 7-1 and have the NFL’s best defense. Only two teams in the 28-team league have gained fewer yards than the Patriots.
Somehow, all that sounds good to Berry.
“It’s one of the best timing situations that we could ask for,” he said. “The best thing that any team like ours can do is to play the very best competition there is.
“We’ve only got one thing on our mind and that’s being world champions and to do that you need to be tested by the best and you need to be tested as often as you can.”
A world championship is unlikely this season for the Patriots, who are 3-5 and tied for last place in the AFC East. However, they were 2-3 at one point in 1985 and ended up going to the Super Bowl where Chicago crushed them, 46-10.
Chicago’s defense, which has allowed 83 points in eight games is “by far the best” in the NFL, Berry said, “but I feel real good about our offense.”
Chicago quarterback Jim McMahon doesn’t expect a letdown after an emotional 10-9 victory over San Francisco last Monday night.
“There’s no way Coach (Mike) Ditka is going to let that happen,” he said. “New England has been playing very well at home.”
With former Bear Doug Flutie at quarterback, Ditka said, the Patriots “will scramble, they will bootleg, they will roam and they will run the ball. . . . He (Flutie) is probably going to run about 10 miles Sunday trying to run bootlegs and reverses and rollouts.”
Although defensive ends Richard Dent and Al Harris will try to keep Flutie in the pocket, Berry remains upbeat about his chances even though the Bears are tied for second in the league with 27 sacks and gave up only 32 points in their last five games.
Part of his optimism stems from the victory over the Bengals. New England capitalized on turnovers to take a 20-0 lead in the third quarter. The Patriots used a time-consuming, ball-control game to keep Cincinnati, then the AFC’s offensive leader, from climbing all the way out of that hole.
“Our defense . . . got six turnovers to enable us to play a good football team and win. Now we’re facing the best defense in the National Football League and our offense has got a challenge,” Berry said. “I put it squarely on the offense to start winning.”
Chicago has given up a league low 66.3 rushing yards per game. In its victory over San Francisco, it held NFL rushing leader Roger Craig to 31 yards. The 49ers gained just 213 yards, nearly half its league-leading average of 415.7.
“You have to run right at them. You can’t string them out because they (Chicago defenders) have too much speed,” Patriot fullback Bob Perryman said. “Nobody’s really run at them for four quarters. They usually give up after three quarters and start throwing and start trick stuff. That’s when they’ve got you.”
So far the Bears’ defense has gotten just about everybody.
“You don’t judge anything after eight games,” Ditka said, “but we have played pretty well (defensively) in certain areas.”