Back to the Archives we go for another squeaker, this time from 1980. This wasn't a season to write home about - the Bears ended with a 7-9 record - but Chicago was ready to rock on Thanksgiving Day. The Bears packed their turkeys and their bags to play the division-leading Detroit Lions (I can't believe I just wrote those words!) for a national audience, and the game did not disappoint. Follow me below the fold to see what Neill Anderson, Buddy Ryan, and quarterback Vince Evans had in store for Monte Clark and his rookie sensation running back Billy Sims.
While the snowstorms had just finished raging through Detroit, the dome was toasty warm for the coin toss. Detroit, who led the league in rushing through this game, came out of the box doing exactly that. Between Sims and FB Dexter Bussey, they had a nice 1-2 punch that worked well against the Bears aggressive fronts. While Dan Hampton and Tom Hicks had some nice backfield stops, Detroit was able to march its way down the field. But, once Detroit got into the red zone, you knew that Buddy Ryan would send his hounds after QB Gary Danielson. While the Bears got a little overeager and managed to jump offsides on third and 10, they were able to force a bad throw out of Danielson on the now-shorter third down. Still, Detroit was able to run seven minutes off the clock on its way to an easy field goal with their strong run game.
Chicago had a miserable first half, perhaps best summarized in the fact that Walter Payton had only 13 yards through the first thirty minutes. We perhaps can relate to what the story was this season: Chicago had been using its first-round picks on defensive linesmen, leaving its pass protection with a little sometime to be desired. On this first drive, Vince Evans found out the hard way just how bad such a situation can be, taking two sacks on the three downs for a loss of ten yards on the drive. The upshot was that on second down Walter Payton hit his fifth straight 1,000 yard season, and would go on to break 8,000 yards by the end of the game. For now, though, it was the first of many Bob Parsons punts.
The defense looked alive on the next two drives, with Alan Page and Dan Hampton combining for a big third down sack to force Detroit into a punt. Payton got stymied on a third and one conversion attempt on the Bears' next set of downs, bringing on Parsons again. On the next Detroit drive, the Bears big rookie acquisition - Al Harris - sent Gary Danielson running for his life on third down. Another punt, and an even worse Bears drive. On this one, the Bears started out with great field position after Dan Williams returned a 39 yard punt 23 yards and put the Bears on the Detroit 22. Instead of taking aim at the end zone, the Bears went for the foot, first taking a false start penalty, then an offensive pass interference, followed by two quick incompletions. Instead of an easy three, it was a net gain of two yards of field position after the Parsons punt sailed into the end zone.
Two more punts traded back and forth, and it was time for some Detroit magic. After winning one first down on the ground and moving the ball just into Bears territory, the defense loaded up the middle expecting more of the same. Danielson made the wise call of a screen pass out to Billy Sims, who made one man miss, then another, then got his blocks in the secondary. It was a beautiful 47 yard catch-and-run to paydirt, although it gave Detroit and ugly ten point lead. Not as ugly as the next Bears possession, which got a jumpstart with a pass interference call on first down, but then went for three straight incompletions on its way to another punt. This one was good for a whole 11 yards of field position after Detroit ran the ball 48 yards the other way. The dual attack of Sims and Bussey ground its way from the Detroit 45 all the way to the Bears 20, with a fourth-down conversion on the 32 to keep the drive alive, but once again, Dan Hampton came up with a big third down sack to stop the Lions cold in their tracks. With the game looking to become 13-0, veteran Alan Page reached up and blocked the kick on its way up, keeping the game a bit closer and giving the Bears the ball back on their own 37 with a whole 1:01 left in the half. Vince Evans had been chased around the pocket for the whole half, but he finally was able to stand and deliver on this last-gasp drive. He made two straight passes to WR James Scott, which were good enough for 40 yards and put the Bears in easy field goal position with 6 seconds left. Bob Thomas finally got to take the field to put the Bears on the board, and with the clock at zero, the score was 10-3 in favor of the Lions.
The first half had been pass-wacky, but now it was time for a heavy dose of #34. Between him and Roland Harper, the Bears ran the ball for a quick 30 yards on the opening drive, but then a holding penalty put the Bears right back into a passing situation. Evans once again found himself introduced to the Detroit astroturf, and Chicago punted it away. Now it was time for Detroit's Scott - Fred - to have his time to shine. He made two quick completions to move the ball from the Detroit 9 out to the 46. From here, it was an all-Bussey attack, which was seemingly stopped at the Chicago 40. A well-planned fake punt that had kicker Tom Skladany complete a 19 yard pass to Bussey kept the drive moving, and after Sims and Bussey marched the ball down to a hair's width from the goal line, Gary Danielson snuck the ball over the line to give the Lions a commanding two-touchdown lead.
With all the pre-game buzz comparing Payton to Sims, you just knew he wasn't going to let himself be shown up by an upstart. Payton and Harper reeled off an amazing series: starting at the 13, they ran the ball all the way to the Detroit 21 as the clock rolled into the fourth quarter. Detroit fell into the same trap Chicago had earlier on the third and one the Bears faced: they loaded up the box for the run, leaving TE Robin Earl wide open to catch the ball and hustle it into the end zone to make it 17-10 Detroit. With their backs against the wall, the Bears were showing life, but they still needed to come up with a plan to stop Detroit's ground game and keep the game close. Cornerback Allan Ellis thankfully had just the plan, coming up from the secondary to stop Bussey as he attempted to round the corner on third and one. Detroit punted, but Chicago's special teams magic fell flat: after Payton had moved the ball into Lions territory but gotten stopped short, Parsons attempt at a pass was easily blocked away by the Lions, who had the play read from the start. Thankfully, the Bears were able to force another three and out, but the clock was ticking. Vince Evans had only 3:37 left to come up with seven points or go home with any chance of his team making the playoffs go up in smoke.
While it had been Walter's half, time was too far gone for a running attack, especially with the Bears starting on their own five. But, Payton was more than just a runner, and on first down, he took the flip in the end zone and lofted up a nice pass to James Scott that was knocked away at the last second. But James Scott would have his chances, and on the next down, he ran the same route but had Evans' pass zip into his hands to move the Bears fifteen yards closer. He moved the sticks one more time before the two-minute warning with a sixteen yard grab to put the Bears onto their own 41. Now that Neill Anderson had time to think about it, he gave Payton one more touch, and he was able to dodge his way on the draw for nine yards to put the ball at midfield. With the clock running, they snuck in one more running play to move the sticks and then threw a quick pass to James Scott again for fourteen more yards. Now, the ball was within striking distance of the end zone, and after using their first time out, it was time to strike. Sadly, Scott couldn't get open in the end zone for this one, but Brian Baschnagel was open on the next play for fourteen yards and a stopped clock. With the ball now on the fifteen, the field was getting shorter for the Detroit defense, and they were close to having a coverage sack on Evans when he snuck out of the pocket and ran the ball all the way to the four before taking a hard hit from the safety. With only 16 seconds left and no more timeouts, you would think they would hand the ball to the sure thing, knowing that if he didn't get it the first time they could line up and give him another shot. This drive, however, was Evans to win or lose. He threw the ball away on first down and careened his attempt off of his own center's back on second, leaving only six seconds left. He sent his receivers out, loaded up to pass, but with no one open, he tucked the ball and dove through the smallest of gaps to find himself in the end zone with the clock reading zero. Bob Thomas hit the extra point to bring on overtime and silence the home crowd.
The old saying that tails never fails has never been more true than in this game. The Bears won the toss and the game with that call. Dave Williams fielded the kick at the five and headed straight ahead behind his wedge. One missed tackle, and he broke to the outside. Another missed tackle, and he found himself with four Lions behind him and nothing but the end zone in front of him. 95 yards in one play was all that Chicago needed to end this game, a surprising come-from-behind that every Chicagoan was thankful for that Turkey Day.
Hope you enjoyed this installment of FTA, and I'll see you back here next week when I'll break down some film in preparation for the "hey, it's almost a real game" third week of the preseason. Until then!