1985 Chicago Bears Fall to Miami Dolphins, 38-24


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With the defense collapsing in a shocking first half and the offense never getting on track, the 12-0 Chicago Bears fell to the 8-4 Miami Dolphins in convincing 38-24 fashion in the Monday night moonlight in South Beach.

In one of the most anticipated Monday Night Football showdowns in NFL history, the Dolphins — who would later win the AFC East — topped the Bears with a fantastic first half in which they scored 31 points against a vaunted defense that allowed only 39 points in the previous seven games.

Coming into the game, the Bears were still without starting quarterback Jim McMahon, who had missed the previous three games with a shoulder injury. He was close to returning, and actually dressed for the game and saw action late, and would remain in the starting lineup the rest of the season.

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For the past three games, though, the Bears didn’t need him. They’d crushed Detroit, Dallas and Atlanta, giving up three points and pitching shutouts against the Cowboys and Falcons. The running game was rugged, totaling 250, 216 and 196 yards in each of the past three games, respectively, while the defense had held each of those three opponents to less than 200 total yards.

Miami, though, was on a hot streak too. They’d won three straight en route to a seven-game winning streak to end the season. The defense was weak, but that wasn’t the straw that stirred the drink for the Dolphins. That was all-universe quarterback Dan Marino. One year removed from throwing for more than 5,000 yards and 48 touchdowns, Marino was still stellar, topping 300 passing yards in five of Miami’s first 12 games.

The game started out poorly for the Bears and, except for a few bright spots, never got any better.

Despite starting backup quarterback Steve Fuller and facing a porous run defense — Miami finished the season ranked 23rd in rush yards allowed and 24th in yards allowed per carry – the Bears threw on two of their first three plays after receiving the opening kickoff, both of which fell incomplete.

Miami took over with excellent field position at their own 44-yard-line before a holding penalty set them back. It didn’t matter. Marino hit receiver Mark Duper on a 3rd and 19 for 29 yards, and threw short two plays later to receiver Nat Moore, who weaved through Bears defensive backs for a 33-yard touchdown.

The Bears, though, answered, with Fuller hitting wide receiver Willie Gault for 69 yards on the first play of the next possession. Fullback Matt Suhey picked up 10 yards on two running plays, and Fuller dove over the top from the one-yard-line to knot the game at 7 each.

It was all downhill from there for the Bears. Miami returned the kickoff to their 43-yard line and kicked a field goal on that possession. Fuller would be intercepted on the next possession for the Bears, and Miami would take over after an unnecessary roughness call against Chicago at the Bears’ 25.

A holding penalty and a sack by Richard Dent set Miami back to a 3rd and 20, but Marino hit Moore for 23 yards and a first down. After being sacked again by Otis Wilson, Marino would hit Duper for 17 yards down to the Bears’ three. Three plays later, fullback Ron Davenport scored from one yard out to give Miami a 17-7 lead early in the second quarter.

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Mixing short passes and runs by Walter Payton, the Bears then launched a clock-killing drive that resulted in a Kevin Butler field goal, narrowing the lead to 17-10.

The defense, though, couldn’t hold, and Miami drove from their own 21, with the main play a deep ball from Marino to Duper for 52 yards and another pass to Mark Clayton for 25 yards. On the first play after the two-minute warning, Davenport again ran in for a one yard score, pushing the lead to 24-10.

With less than two minutes left, the Bears looked to score, but Fuller was sacked and two more plays netted only seven yards. The subsequent punt was blocked, setting up the Dolphins at the six-yard line. Two plays later, Marino hit Moore for a touchdown, setting the halftime score at a stunning 31-10.

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Rather than spend halftime making adjustments, the Bears opted for an inter-coach brawl, with head coach Mike Ditka and defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan supposedly throwing a few haymakers at each other as they disputed the finer points of allowing 31 points in a half and only giving Payton 10 carries in the first half.

The third quarter started with promise for the Bears, as Marino threw an interception to Leslie Frazier on the first play, setting the Bears up at Miami’s 44. After getting one first down, though, Fuller threw his second interception trying to hit Payton on a wheel route in double coverage.

The Bears would get the ball back in short order after Clayton fumbled on the next Miami possession. This time, the Bears would capitalize, with Fuller again taking it in from the one to cut the lead to 31-17.

The Dolphins seemed ripe to collapse, but the Bears tried an onside kick that failed, and three plays later Marino, in one of the more famous plays of the Bears season, threw a pass that deflected off defensive tackle Dan Hampton’s helmet at the line of scrimmage. The ball sailed over cornerback Mike Richardson and landed in Clayton’s hands, who coasted in for a 42-yard touchdown.

A long kickoff return set the Bears up in Miami territory, and Fuller would eventually hit wide receiver Ken Margerum for a touchdown to again cut the gap to 38-24.

That wasn’t the end of the Bears’ chances. After finally forcing a punt, the Bears took over at their own 47 with five minutes left in the third quarter. Fuller, though, was sacked twice on the possession, and the Bears squandered the opportunity.

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Another chance to cut the lead disappeared on Miami’s next possession. On the first play of the fourth quarter, Dent again sacked Marino, who fumbled near midfield. Reserve defensive tackle Henry Waechter had a clear shot at falling on it, but instead opted to try to pick it up, and muffed it, with Miami eventually recovering.

Getting the ball back, the Bears drove to midfield, with McMahon now in for Fuller, who left with an ankle injury. The Bears would drive to the Miami 17, but a false start and two sacks resulted in a fourth and 34, and McMahon threw an interception in the end zone with six minutes remaining.

The Bears would get the ball back twice more, but elected to focus on getting Payton to 100 yards to allow him to seize an NFL record of consecutive 100-yard-games with eight, though he almost squandered the chance by fumbling with less than 2 minutes remaining. His 121 yards were really the lone bright spot in the game.

The final score was 38-24, and there was plenty of blame to go round.

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Start on offense, where Ditka opted to throw against Miami despite having Fuller in at quarterback.

Fuller was a competent backup who coming into the game hadn’t thrown a touchdown pass despite starting four games on the season. Miami’s pass defense was almost as bad as their run defense — they were ranked 22nd in pass yards allowed – but without McMahon and with the Bears defense struggling, the smart choice was to run the ball and give your own defense time to rest and adjust.

The Bears ran running plays 15 times in the first half and passing plays 18 times, several of which turned into Fuller scrambles or sacks. The results were seven completions for Fuller in 13 attempts, with one interception and two sacks.

Attempts to throw the ball in the second half were little better, with Fuller going four for eight with an interception, a touchdown and two sacks. McMahon, coming in cold, was three for six with one interception and two sacks.

The running game, meanwhile collected 37 rushes for 167 yards, a 4.5 yard per carry average. With the running game rolling, the quarterbacks struggling and the line allowing six sacks to a team that only collected 37 on the year, the smart play was to run the ball. The Bears didn’t, and it cost them.

On defense, the common theme is to fault the Bears for not going to the nickel defense to focus on slowing Miami’s passing game. That’s valid, but too much of the focus goes to the hoopla surrounding linebacker Wilber Marshall trying to cover  Moore, who caught four passes for 75 yards and two touchdowns. The fault at not going to the nickel rests with Ryan, but Marshall is hardly to blame for Moore’s great performance.

He shouldn’t have been covering Moore at all, and if you watch the game, you’ll realize how faulty the storyline is. On Moore’s first touchdown of 33 yards, Marshall isn’t covering him; he’s blitzing, and safety Gary Fencik is trying to run across half the field to cover Moore, who ran an out pattern.

On Moore’s second catch, converting a 3rd and 20, strong safety Dave Duerson is covering Moore, and didn’t turn around to see the pass, resulting in Moore leaping and catching the ball while Duerson ran into him. Marshall’s not even close to the play.

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Reading about this game in books written years after the game, one thing that rarely comes up is Miami’s starting field position in the first half. In five first half possessions, Miami started at their own 44, their own 43, the Chicago 25, their own 21 and the Chicago six yard line. All except their fourth possession, that’s great field position, and they took advantage of it. The Bears, meanwhile, never had better field position than their own 29-yard line in the first half.

Another common thread is that the Bears’ pass rush let them down, and that’s true to a certain extent. Marino was successful in rolling away from the pressure, but was still hurried several times early in the game and sacked three times.

But what really caught up to the Bears here, aside from both the offense and defense failing to adjust, is that this was the 46 Defense running into the type of offense that could expose the scheme’s coverage flaws.

Starting in 1984 and continuing through the decade, Miami was one of the pioneers of the big play, three or four wide receiver set offenses that could spread the 46 out, and force more of those blitzers into coverage instead, thereby creating mismatches down the field. And with Marino, Moore, Clayton and Duper, they had the weapons to make this work. Other teams could try it, but without those skilled receivers and a quarterback with a cannon like Marino, it wouldn’t work to the tune of 38 points against a defense like the Bears.

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Despite all of that, after watching the game, it’s hard not to think that the Bears still could have won, that they cost themselves chances to score and get back into the game. Miami capitalized on every chance, scoring on five first-half possessions, only once settling for a field goal. But the Bears defense shut them down in the second half, surrendering only one touchdown.

While the Bears defense did its bit in contributing to the loss in the first half, the offense pitched-in in the second half, failing to capitalize on Marino’s interception in Miami territory, failing to score in the fourth quarter when they had a first-and-10 at the Dolphin 17, and once not even getting a first down in the second half when they started a possession at midfield. Those missed opportunities came back to bite them in a second half that was evenly fought between the two teams.

As great as Miami played, the Bears had solid reasons to argue that the outcome could have been different, and would be different if they met in the Super Bowl.

“They deserved to win and we didn’t. I hope they go as far as we’re going to go and we play them again,” Ditka told Don Pierson from the Chicago Tribune.

“They were a better team than us,” left tackle Jimbo Covert told Pierson. Tonight. It ain’t the end of the world. On this day in history, they were better. Five or six weeks down the road, we might be better than them.”

Unfortunately, they’d never get the chance to find out.

Next: Breaking Down Bears First Depth Chart

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