Walter Payton Leads 1985 Chicago Bears Past Packers, 16-10


Greetings, Bears fans. With this being the 30th anniversary of the Super Bowl-winning Chicago Bears of 1985, here at Bear Goggles On we’ll be revisiting the regular season and playoff games — including re-watching them when possible — and posting information about a game each Throwback Thursday as we move closer to the 2015 regular season.

In their closest contest of the 1985 season, the Chicago Bears needed a throwback performance from Walter Payton to run through the Green Bay Packers for a 16-10 win.

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Just two weeks removed from dumping the Packers on Monday Night Football, the Bears trekked to Lambeau for a tough match-up with their hated rivals, in a game that stands out as much for its brutality as for Payton’s vintage 192-yard performance.

Coming into the game, the Bears were flying high at 8-0, their closest win to date an eight-point victory over Tampa Bay in Week 5. The defense had rounded into form as the wrecking crew we all remember them as; quarterback Jim McMahon had pushed the passing game to new heights (for the Bears, I mean), throwing for more than 200 yards in half of the team’s contests; and the success of the running game had the certainty of death and taxes.

The Bears offense was about to revert back to its late 1970s version, though, starting in the Week 9 game at Green Bay, as McMahon struggled, missing open receivers time and again. He would end up passing for 91 yards, completing only 9 of 20 passes for one touchdown, while taking three sacks.

After the game, Bears wide receiver Dennis McKinnon acknowledged the passing offense struggled, and that McMahon didn’t play up to par.

“The passing game starts with the quarterback,” McKinnon said to the Chicago Tribune’s Bernie Lincicome. “A lot of times we’re open. The ball’s overthrown or underthrown or gets there too late to give a guy time to recover. But the passing attack is there. Taking nothing away from our offensive attack, Jim was a little off today and we had to revert to our running attack.”

Just like in their first matchup in Week 7, the Bears fumbled on their first possession against Green Bay, this time Payton losing the ball on a draw play. The Packers recovered, failed to get a first down and kicked a field goal for a quick 3-0 lead.

After that, the game got uglier, as Packers cornerback Mark Lee was ejected in the first quarter after shoving Payton over the bench on the Chicago sideline following one run, while safety Kenny Stills lit up Bears fullback Matt Suhey a solid three seconds after another play ended.

Green Bay was hit with three personal fouls in the first quarter, and four personal fouls total in the first half, to the Bears’ two personal fouls. All told, the teams combined for 15 penalties for 136 yards in the game.

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While McMahon was ineffective – he totaled -3 passing yards in the first quarter and was 5 of 13 in the first half – Payton dominated, topping 100 yards in the first half en route to his best performance of the season.

The defense, meanwhile, was shutting down Green Bay, holding them to zero passing yards in the first quarter and Packers quarterback Jim Zorn to 2 of 10 passing for 43 yards and an interception in the first half. The Packers would collect only 68 yards of offense in the first half.

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Late in the first half, the Bears mounted a drive from their own 35. Relying primarily on Payton, who picked up more than 35 yards on the drive, the Bears moved to the Green Bay 4, where McMahon hit the Fridge for a touchdown and a 7-3 halftime lead.

That momentary success didn’t carry over to the second half, though, as the Bears offense continued to sputter in the third quarter, and the defense finally showed a crack.

Lining up in one of their patented “everybody blitz” schemes, the Bears left running back Jessie Clark open, with Zorn hitting him on a short pass up the seam. Clark stiff armed safety Gary Fencik and scored on the 55-yard pass, pushing the Packers to a 10-7 lead.

The score remained the same into the fourth quarter, until Bears punter Maury Buford pinned the Packers inside their own 5 yard line after Green Bay return man Phil Epps made a poor decision in fair catching the punt instead of letting the ball enter the end zone for a touchback. On third down, defensive tackle Steve McMichael sacked Zorn for a safety, narrowing the Green Bay lead to 10-9.

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A short punt and a good return set up the Bears at midfield following the safety. A 16-yard-pass to reserve tight end Tim Wrightman followed a six-yard run by Payton, pushing the ball to the Green Bay 27, where Payton, bouncing off would-be tacklers, outran two defensive backs to the corner of the endzone, making the score 16-10, Bears.

The defense, though, had work to do. Following a pair of penalties on the Bears – including another personal foul – the defense held at midfield, forcing a punt. The Bears, feeding Payton and Suhey at this point, punted after one first down, setting Green Bay up for a shot at knocking the Bears off their undefeated perch with a fourth quarter comeback.

The Packers picked up one first down on a fourth down conversion to running back Eddie Lee Ivery, and Zorn connected with tight end Paul Coffman on another first down, moving the ball to the Bears 45 with more than a minute left. The defense, though, held Zorn to four straight incompletions, securing the narrow victory for Chicago.

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Despite moving to 9-0, the Bears offense was cause for concern. The passing game was atrocious against Green Bay, forcing Chicago to revert back to the old Walter left, Walter right game plan. Fortunately, Payton, who eclipsed the 14,000 career rush yards mark in the game, responded with 192 yards on 28 carries, good enough to push the Bears over the top.

“I thought Payton’s exhibition was maybe as good as I’ve ever see a guy with a football under his arm play,” Coach Mike Ditka said to the Chicago Tribune’s Don Pierson.

“I knocked the crap out of Payton. He’s such a good athlete that he just kept on going,” Packers linebacker Brian Noble told Pierson.

On defense, meanwhile, the Bears continued their hot streak, holding the Packers to 10 points – three of which was set up by a Bears fumble – and holding Green Bay to 87 rushing yards on 28 carries, little more than three yards per carry. The defense collected three sacks, including two by defensive end Dan Hampton, and harried Zorn into 11 of 26 passing for 179 yards, a touchdown and an interception.

The game was more proof that the Bears would go only as far as the defense and Payton could carry them. The passing game – while it had shown flashes of competence in the first half of the season – was not scaring anyone, but the defense, combined with Payton’s rugged running, was the show. The defense would need to be that good in the weeks ahead, too, as McMahon missed the next three games with an injury.

At 9-0, the Bears were high atop the NFC Central, with the Vikings and Lions sitting tied for second at 5-4. The Bears had a date with the Lions next week, and a visit to Dallas in the distant offing.

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