Picture this - a young quarterback from Denver comes into Chicago with a weak offensive line and gets punished by defenders until he is pulled from the game. That's right, I'm talking about John Elway's rookie season, when he and his Denver Broncos came in to face the up-and-coming Chicago Bears. The Bears biggest offensive weapon - Walter Payton - was nursing an injury that limited him the week before, and Mike Ditka was sporting a cast on his right hand, which he acquired by punching an equipment trunk after the Bears lost the previous week. Much like our game from 2005 from last week, this was a game that was won using the classic Bears formula of defense and ground game. Follow me below the fold as second year quarterback Jim McMahon pits his team against rookie John Elway and the Broncos.No one can deny that Jim McMahon was a quarterback who liked to take chances. Many times, his gambles paid off, even if his risky passes made Ditka fume on the sideline. We get a taste of McMahon's style early in the game: after Walter Payton took his first carry six yards, McMahon motioned fullback Matt Suhey out to the slot. With the Denver secondary keyed in on Payton, Suhey was able to find the tiniest of holes in their coverage despite having two men on him. McMahon delivers a shot which somehow snuck its way past the cornerback and safety, who managed to trip each other up as they dove for the ball, leaving a clear field ahead for Suhey. He ran the ball all the way to the 13 yard line, and, with the defensive still keeping its eyes on Payton, took the first-down handoff all the way to the house. Three plays for seven points in a whole 1:11 of game time, and the Bears were rolling.
Now it was time for the Broncos young gun to take the field. After a quick handoff that went for three yards and a near-sack that he threw away, Elway found himself in a third and seven and squarely in the sights of the Bears defense. They lined up in an eight man front and sent six men after #7, who was brought down by with barely enough time to cover the football. After the punt, the Bears were back in control, but Elway wasn't the only young quarterback feeling the pressure. Two runs by Payton and Gentry went for nothing, and facing a third and ten, McMahon took his shot down the field. Unfortunately, his pass went past an open Willie Gault and into the hands of Bronco Mike Harden, who made a nice return after the pick to set Denver up at the Bears 33. Once again, the first and second down plays went for a grand total of three yards, leaving Elway with another third and long. The Bears once again gave him the classic 46 zone look, and safety Todd Bell came around the edge almost untouched to bring Elway down and knock the Broncos well out of the range of a field goal. The punt, however, went out at the eleven, setting up the Bears with a long field ahead of them.
The Bears have always been a team that wants to dominate the clock, knowing that they can control the game as long as they can control the ball. This drive showed just how well this strategy can work when it is done well. McMahon started with two nice handoffs to Suhey, who racked up a quick twelve yards to give the Bears some breathing room. From here, McMahon mixed up his calls, throwing two nice passes to his tight end Moorehead along with some good running by Walter Payton and rookie Cal Thomas. The drive almost stalled after Payton came up six inches short on his patented leap over the line on third and one, but Suhey was able to pick up the first down on a misdirection play on the fourth down conversion. After McMahon lulled the Broncos defense into thinking he was content to keep the ball on the ground - not a bad strategy when Walter Payton was picking up around five yards a carry - he threw a perfect pass to a wide open Willie Gault for 15 yards to open up an fourteen point lead on the Broncos. The best part of the drive? The 8:37 it took off the clock as they methodically moved the ball down field.
With the last play of the quarter, the Broncos foolishly took the kick out of the end zone only to have their kick returner demolished by a young Richard Dent at the fourteen. With the game already looking to get away from them, Broncos coach Dan Reeves decided it was time to take a shot, and while Elway's pass had the zip that made him the first quarterback taken in the draft, its accuracy left a little something to be desired. A second-down sweep was good for five yards, but the third and five conversion attempt was foiled when Al Harris picked up Broncos running back Sam Winder and slammed him into the astroturf. For the Broncos, it was looking like they were stuck between a rock and a hard place: there were few yards to be had on the ground and their quarterback had already ended up on the ground twice.
The Bears drive ended quickly after Jim McMahon was called for intentional grounding on second down, but the defense didn't want to get left out of the first-half scoring. With a solid punt setting up the Broncos on their own ten, it was time to send the house. The eight-man blitz wasn't able to bring down Elway, but his screen pass to the flat was picked out of the air by Les Frazier, who took the ball in from fifteen yards out to put the Bears up by 21. Even Ditka was starting to look happy as this game was quickly becoming a rout. The Broncos, realizing that Elway was in over his head against the Bears savage defense, put the ball in the hands of RB Sam Winder, but a nice tackle for a loss by safety Todd Bell on second down once again forced Elway to pass. His receivers, however, were well covered down field when the Bears backed out of their blitz and sent seven men into coverage, and Elway was only able to eke out one yard once he was flushed from the pocket by Dan Hampton.
With only 5:29 left in the half, the Bears were looking to play ball control football. This could mean only one thing: a heavy dose of Sweetness. He ground out twenty one yards and two first downs, and threw a key block to break Jim McMahon out for a twenty yard scramble as the pocket collapsed around him. With the Bears now on the edge of the red zone, it was time for more of the same, and a dump pass to Payton and a draw play to Suhey put them at first and goal at the five. Sadly, it quickly became a first and goal at the ten after Jim McMahon botched the snap count and was called for a false start. While Suhey was able to get back those yards and tack three more on top of it, with third and goal on the two, Jim McMahon's pass to Cal Thomas fell to the turf incomplete. The Bears had to settle for an easy 19 yard field goal, making it 24-0 and leaving the Broncos with only 1:17 to play in the half.
The Bears defense softened a bit and gave up enough underneath their coverage to let the Broncos move just inside of Bears territory. While the Bears had the Broncos stopped after a comical sack in which Elway led Todd Bell and Al Harris on a goose chase around the back field, they called a time out to force the Broncos to punt. They sent the house after the Broncos kicker to try for the block, but the only thing that Michael Richardson was able to get his hands on was the kicker himself, giving the Broncos a fresh set of downs. Thankfully, the Bears prevent defense ran enough time off the clock that there was only time for one throw into the end zone from the 49, a pass that landed harmlessly between two Bears defenders to run the clock down to zero. The Bears dominated the time of possession in the first half by an almost two to one margin, and their defense held the rookie Elway to all of one first down in the first half.
The game became a battle of boring veterans after the half, with Elway benched in favor of Steve DeBerg and McMahon earning a benching from Ditka after throwing a bad pick early in the third. The Broncos showed some signs of life after making a quick strike off of the that McMahon interception and then getting another seven after getting the ball back using an onside kick. Their hopes were quickly crushed, though, as Vince Evans came off the bench to replace McMahon and threw a beautiful pass twenty yards downfield to Willie Gault, who beat his man and left two other Broncos in his dust on his way to a 72 yard touchdown gallop, the last 40 yards of which he ran in 4.1 seconds. By the end of the game, the Bears had notched a total of ten sacks on Broncos quarterbacks, with Al Harris accounting for four of them. The pressure, along with another two picks against DeBerg put any chance of a Broncos comeback on ice.
The '83 Bears were a lot like the '05 Bears we looked at last week: beastly on defense, sporting a top-notch run game behind their solid offensive line, and featuring a developing quarterback who could complete enough passes to keep opposing defenses on their toes. Both teams made Super Bowl appearances in their next season, and while the outcome was better the first time around, Bears fans were jubilant to see their team revived each time after years of irrelevance. See you back here next week, when we look back to a much more recent game in which another quarterback from Denver came into town and was able to post some amazing games despite missing many of the pieces of a playoff-ready team. See you then.