Thursday, December 2, 2010

December 2, 1985: Fish slapped

MIAMI - It had been seven weeks since anybody had scored more than 10 points against them, four weeks since anybody had scored even a touchdown against them. The Chicago Bears didn't have to score a lot of points to win games in 1985 - their defense was doing just fine. As the season rolled around into December, though, the Bears' offense was picking up. The last two games of November, they had scored 44 and 36 points, pitching shutouts in both. They were on a historic roll

The "undefeated" talk had been building, getting stronger and louder as the Bears kept piling up lopsided victories week after week. It was obvious that they had no contemporary challengers, that the only goal remaining before their inevitable Super Bowl victory was then mark set by the 1972 Dolphins, the NFL's only unbeaten and untied team. That was the Bears' mission now.

As they rolled up their 12th consecutive victory, the Bears saw only one game left on their schedule that would be a real challenge: Week 13, Monday Night Football, at Miami. A season removed from a Super Bowl appearance, and with Dan Marino in the height of his career, the Dolphins were an offensive machine. Marino had set every possible passing record the year before, and while the Dolphins weren't quite as good as they had been the year before, they were still formidable. Plus, they had something to play for: protecting their franchise's legacy of being the only unbeaten team in the NFL.

So the stage was set on Monday Night Football: The 12-0 Bears at the 8-4 Dolphins, nothing short of NFL history on the line. With several members of the 1972 Dolphins in attendence, the current Dolphins set out to spoil perfection.

It didn't take the Dolphins long to establish themselves, as Marino found Nat Moore for a 33-yard touchdown pass to open the scoring. Shockingly, it was the first touchdown the Bears had allowed since November 3. The Bears responded, tying the score in the first when backup quarterback Steve Fuller ran in from a yard out. The Dolphins added a field goal to take a 10-7 lead going into the second.

The Bears' 46 Defense was predicated on the blitz - they wanted the opposing quarterbacks to be forced to make a deep downfield throw with a blitzing safety in his face. For most quarterbacks, this was too tall of an order. But Marino wasn't like most quarterbacks. Blessed with a lightning-quick release and one of the strongest arms in the game, Marino was able to stand in the pocket longer against the Bears than any other quarterback had before, resulting in an explosive second quarter that nobody saw coming.

A 22-yard pass to Moore helped set up a rushing touchdown for the Dolphins, giving them a 17-7 lead. The Bears responded with a field goal, but Marino struck back again, hitting Mark Duper on a 52-yard pass, followed by a 27-yard pass to Mark Clayton to set up another score. With 1:57 left in the half, the Dolphins were up 24-10, and they weren't done. They blocked a Bears punt on the next possession, recovering the ball at the 6 and punching in another touchdown before the half ended. The Dolphins had score more points in the second quarter alone than all but two teams had scored on the Bears all season long, taking a shocking 31-10 lead into the locker room at halftime.

There was still an entire half of football to play, but it was over. With starting quarterback Jim McMahon out with an injury, the Bears simply weren't going to be able to score enough to come back. Though the defense stiffened and only gave up one more touchdown, the Bears had no chance, falling 38-24. Their perfect season was ruined.

Counting postseason, the Bears played 76 quarters during the 1985 season. In only one of them did their vaunted defense fail them. In only one quarter did the Bears find an offense that didn't crumble in the face of the 46. And 15 minutes was all Dan Marino needed to shred the greatest defense the NFL has ever seen.

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