1985 Chicago Bears Tame Detroit Lions, 37-17


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.

Closing out with a convincing but at times frustrating win over the Detroit Lions, the Chicago Bears finished up the 1985 regular season with a 15-1 record.

While the Bears ended up winning by a wide margin, 37-17, the score was deceiving, as they led by only three points at halftime and six points at the end of the third quarter, before a pair of big plays pushed them over the top.

Coming into the game, the Chicago Bears seemed to have regained their mojo the previous week with a 19-6 win over the talented New York Jets. On the heels of the Bears’ only loss against Miami and a listless win over the Indianapolis Colts, the Bears passing game regained its footing against the Jets, while the defense had forced three turnovers and collected four sacks.

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The Lions, meanwhile, had been eliminated from the playoffs in Week 15 with a loss to Green Bay. Detroit boasted the league’s worst offense and one of the worst rush defenses, but their pass defense was one of the best in the league, finishing fifth against the pass.

The Lions were also one of the top home teams in 1985, coming into the contest against the Bears with a 6-1 record at home, including wins over playoff teams Dallas, San Francisco, Miami and the Jets. The Lions would put up a spirited fight against the Bears, even as their quarterbacks were repeatedly mashed into the Detroit turf.

The tough defensive showing didn’t mean much to Coach Mike Ditka, though.

“We couldn’t beat a playoff team today. We would have been eliminated,” Ditka told the Chicago Tribune’s Don Pierson.

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The quarterback assault started on the third play of Detroit’s opening series, as reserve quarterback Joe Ferguson was forced from the pocket by William Perry only to have Wilber Marshall level him. Marshall struck Ferguson with the crown of his helmet under Ferguson’s chin, a shot that would definitely be illegal in today’s sanitized game. Ferguson, who stayed sprawled on the field for several minutes, would eventually walk off, but would not return to the game.

Despite facing one of the top passing defenses, the Bears’ offense came out throwing. Quarterback Jim McMahon completed three of four passes on the Bears’ first possession, including a 30-yarder to Walter Payton. The drive culminated in a field goal from Kevin Butler.

On the other end, the beat down of Lions quarterbacks continued, as Eric Hipple was punished throughout the game. Usually the starter, Hipple was dealing with a knee injury, the reason why Ferguson started. Pressed into duty, Hipple took a pounding.

In his first full possession, Hipple was intercepted on an underthrown deep ball by Mike Richardson, whose lengthy return proved fruitless when Butler missed a 51-yard field goal.

The next Bears’ possession ended after two plays when Payton fumbled, which the Lions converted into a field goal late in the first quarter, knotting the game at three each.

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Both offenses continued to turn the ball over in the second quarter. McMahon was intercepted deep in Lions territory on the next Bears possession, but the Lions returned the favor by losing a fumble.

Three plays later, McMahon threw his second interception of the quarter when Willie Gault failed to alter his route during a Lions blitz. The Bears’ defense held, though, and Lions kicker Eddie Murray missed a long field goal.

With the passing game struggling with turnovers and sacks, the Bears shifted to the ground. An 11-play drive, eight of which were running plays, led to another Butler field goal and a 6-3 lead late in the second quarter.

The Bears defense forced another turnover when Lions’ back James Jones lost the ball on a 3rd-and-20 draw play, with Richard Dent recovering inside the Lions’ 30. McMahon was sacked and fumbled on the next play, but Chicago recovered, only to see Butler miss his second field goal on the next play.

The third quarter loomed brighter for the Bears, though, as Dennis Gentry took the opening kickoff 94 yards for a touchdown, pushing the lead to 13-3. After a Lions punt, the Bears launched a long drive from their own 17 that ended in another Butler field goal and a 16-3 lead.

The Lions, though, refused to go away. Relying strictly on the passing game, they finished a 70-yard drive with a two-yard pass from Hill to tight end David Lewis, cutting the deficit to 16-10.

The small margin didn’t stick, though, as Payton hit Willie Gault for 50 yards on the last play of the third quarter, and McMahon scrambled 15 yards for a touchdown to finish the drive with the Bears up 23-10.

This time, the Lions failed to answer, as Jones fumbled again, with linebacker Ron Rivera – in for an injured Mike Singletary — scooped the ball at the five-yard-line and raced in, making the score 30-10.

The Lions scored on their next possession to make it 30-17, and Bears reserve quarterback Steve Fuller followed that up with an interception, setting Detroit up at the Chicago 23 in great shape to make it a one score game. Marshall, though, playing one of his best games of the season, intercepted a Hipple pass, negating the threat.

After a Bears punt, Marshall again came through on a fourth down at the Chicago 15, sacking Hipple and forcing a fumble that Perry picked up and returned to the Detroit 15. Three plays later, McMahon hit receiver Ken Margerum for 12 yards and a touchdown, finishing the scoring at 37-17.

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Largely a meaningless win except for postseason momentum, the Bears nevertheless put up impressive numbers. The running game gained 161 yards on 33 carries, while the passing game netted 221 yards. The four turnovers were cause for concern, as were the four sacks allowed, but the Bears overcame them to score 31 second-half points.

Ditka, though, was unhappy with the performance from all facets of the team, while players admitted they weren’t playing with much intensity early in the game.

“Took us until the fourth quarter to outscore our defense and special teams. We talk about kickoff coverage, and we didn’t cover,” Ditka told Pierson. “When the Lions needed to pass, they passed. Unless we blitzed, we couldn’t get to the quarterback. We get near the end zone and settle for field goals. Where did we play well?”

“We didn’t exactly come in here with fire in our eyes, or great intensity. Am I concerned? If we don’t do any better than this, I am,” tackle Keith Van Horne said to the Chicago Tribune’s Bob Verdi.

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The defense, meanwhile, stuff the Lions running game, allowing only 73 yards on 21 carries. In addition to forcing seven turnovers, the Bears sacked Hipple four times. While the defense played well, the Lions — hardly a passing juggernaut — completed six passes of 20 yards or more, including two passes for more than 30 yards.

Unfortunately, allowing the Lions to throw for 253 yards knocked the Bears’ defense out of the lead for best passing defense in the league. They would eventually finish third behind Washington and Pittsburgh.

With the win over the Lions, the Bears finished the regular season at 15-1. The defense was first in points allowed, first in total defense, first against the rush, seventh in yards allowed per carry, first in turnovers and interceptions, recovered the fifth most fumbles, finished second in first downs allowed, first in completion percentage against, third against the pass, first in quarterback rating against and collected the third most sacks.

While there have been other great defenses, the Bears had staked an impressive claim to being the best, and certainly most complete, defense of all time.

The offense, meanwhile, is better described as efficient. They led the league in rushing yards and finished seventh in total yards and second in points scored, but finished only 20th in passing yards. More importantly, they finished tied for fourth in fewest turnovers committed.

The Bears had completed a dominant regular season run, and now headed to the bye week, awaiting the winner of the Giants-49ers wildcard game.

Next: 2015 NFC North Preview

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