Saturday Feb 06, 2016
Saturday Feb 06, 2016
Saturday Feb 06, 2016
Erased Super Bowl XX: Chicago Bears 46 New England Patriots 10
There have been many blowouts in Super Bowl history, but none have a reputation like the 1985 Chicago Bears 46-10 win over the New England Patriots.
The Bears arrived at the Louisiana Superdome as 10 point favorites. At the beginning of the 1985 season, the defending NFC Central champs possessed the NFL’s top defense and were expected to win the division again, but were not picked by many to win the Super Bowl. They played up to expectations to start the season by beginning 5-0 but were not quite as dominant on defense as they had been in 1984. In Week 6, they traveled out to San Francisco to play the defending champion 49ers. The prior year, the 49ers had gone 15-1 and defeated the Bears 23-0 in the NFC Championship game. Many considered them to be the best team ever. The meeting in San Francisco would be the Bears launch point for their rise to that same claim. Chicago left with a hard-fought 26-10 victory and never looked back. From that point on, the Bears unleashed a reign of terror on the rest of the league. They finished 15-1. Their ferocious defense was number one in both points and yards. They averaged 4 sacks and 3.4 takeaways per game. They had left many quarterbacks laying, and seemed to defeat some before the plays even started. In the NFC playoffs, they took it to a whole other level. In two wins, they forced four turnovers, 9 sacks, allowed 19 total first downs and gave up 0 points. For good measure, the Bears efficient offense, which finished 1985 first in rushing and 2nd in scoring, added 55 points and the Bears were on to Super Bowl XX to claim their first title in 22 years.
Awaiting them were the surprising New England Patriots. To date, New England had just one playoff win in their franchise’s history. In 1985, the Patriots won with a combination of a solid defense that thrived on takeaways and a decent offense predicated on running the ball with their dual-threat backfield of Craig James (1,587 yards from scrimmage) and Tony Collins (1,206 yards from scrimmage). They notched an 11-5 record and made the playoffs as the second wildcard team, meaning they would have to win three road games to reach the Super Bowl – something no team had ever done. In the Wildcard round, the Patriots collected four turnovers from the New York Jets and claimed a 26-14 victory. At the top-seeded Los Angeles Raiders in the Divisional Round, New England forced six turnovers, slashed for 156 yards on the ground, and scored the shocking 27-20 upset. In the AFC Championship Game, the Patriots would head to a spot where they had not won in their last 15 tries: Miami. The 12-4 Dolphins were 5.5 point favorites and featured perhaps the league’s best player in quarterback Dan Marino. This would be a matchup of the Dolphins elite passing attack versus the Patriots red hot running game. Fate, however, played perhaps the biggest factor. The game would be played in a steady rain. The weather affected the Dolphins pass-first offense, as they lost four fumbles and never got their passing game on track. The Patriots traversed the slop with 255 rushing yards and controlled the ball for nearly 40 minutes. New England logged their third straight playoff upset, 31-14, and headed for a matchup with the Bears believing they could do it again.
For the first six plays of Super Bowl XX, it looked like the Patriots were going to score their most improbable upset yet. On the Bears second play, the Patriots forced Chicago’s future Hall of Fame Running Back Walter Payton to fumble at the Bears 19. After recovering the fumble, New England went for the kill shot. They barely missed three big pass completions, including two that could have been touchdowns. They settled for a 3-0 lead. From that point on, the Bears regained their focus and physically destroyed the Patriots in a manner perhaps never seen before or since in the NFL. The Bears and their 46 Defense, led by Defensive Coordinator Buddy Ryan, sacked Tony Eason on three of his next six dropbacks - including a sack that Eason conceded by diving to the turf for safety before ever being touched. This led to New England coach Raymond Berry pulling him from the game. After gaining 510 rushing yards in the AFC playoffs, the Patriots rushing attack was held to seven yards. That is not a misprint: seven yards. New England had -19 yards of offense at halftime. Chicago’s typically workmanlike offense was perfectly balanced, exploding for 408 yards of total offense – 3rd most in Super Bowl history at the time. After allowing rookie defensive tackle William “the Refrigerator” Perry to carry the ball and score an offensive touchdown, Bears legendary Head Coach Mike Ditka called off the dogs with a 44-3 lead and 3:48 remaining in the THIRD quarter. Chicago would win 46-10, setting records in both points scored and margin of victory, and carried both Mike Ditka and Buddy Ryan off the field. New England had been humiliated and America was left wondering if the 18-1 Chicago Bears were the best team of all time. How the hell did this team ever lose one game?
The Switch: 1985 Miami Dolphins for 1985 New England Patriots
On Monday, December 2nd, 1985, the 12-0 Chicago Bears came to Miami to take on the 8-4 Dolphins. The talk in the pregame was whether or not Miami was the last hurdle between the Bears and a 16-0 season – thus eclipsing the 14-0 mark of the 1972 Dolphins. The Dolphins were a home underdog for just the 5th time in the 1980s. Miami rose to the challenge and attacked the Bears with the one weapon they had: Dan Marino. Despite facing the Bears ferocious pass rush, they threw often. Marino was at his best, throwing for 270 yards, three touchdowns, and a passer rating of 108.6. Through Marino’s great play, some good defense, and some lucky bounces, Miami raced out to a 31-10 halftime lead and held on for a 38-24 win. Miami would go on to win the rest of their games, averaging over 30 points per game, and clinching the AFC East. In the playoffs, Miami didn’t play their best. They had to come back from 18 points down at home to defeat the 8-8 Cleveland Browns in the final minutes. After the New England Patriots upset the 12-4 Los Angeles Raiders, Miami unexpectedly hosted the AFC Title Game against a team it hadn’t lost to at home since 1969. As described above, things didn’t quite go as planned.
Miami was a strange team in 1985. The year before, the Dolphins were 14-2 with the 7th best defense in the league and the best offense in NFL history to date. Dan Marino was NFL MVP and shattered many passing records - most notably by setting single season marks with 48 touchdowns and 5,084 passing yards. Both records would last well into the 2000s. While the Dolphins would lose to the 15-1 49ers in the Super Bowl, everyone expected them to be back. In 1985, they were still a good team but started to take the shape that many of Dan Marino’s teams would frustratingly take over the rest of his career - incredible passing game, but below-average running game and defense. The Dolphins still tied for the best record in the AFC, but were not as good as the Bears or frankly most of the other top NFC teams. However, they threw the ball as well as anyone in the league, even without a running game. As long as there has been a forward pass, there is nothing that scares a defense like a great quarterback.
Despite losing the AFC Championship game by 17 to the Patriots, Miami had numerous chances to win. The Dolphins trailed just 10-7 in the 2nd quarter when Dan Marino fumbled the wet ball on the snap. New England recovered and turned that opportunity into a 17-7 lead. Right before halftime, Marino threw an interception in the end zone, allowing the Patriots to take their two-score lead into the second half. Had Miami scored a touchdown there, the resulting 17-14 halftime score would have been easier to come back from. Miami received the second half kickoff. If things had gone differently on the two first half turnovers, Miami could be getting the ball with a chance to tie, take the lead, or even further their existing lead. In reality, Miami trailed 17-7 and then fumbled the kickoff. New England recovered and scored yet another touchdown to take a 24-7 lead. Down 17 in the 3rd quarter, in the rain, without a running game, against a team you can’t stop on the ground; Miami was beaten. While they lost the real game 31-14, the game was really lost on those three plays. Had Miami not committed those turnovers, they would have had a very good shot to win. Let’s imagine Miami makes those plays and the Dolphins win their second consecutive AFC Championship. Could they upset the Bears again?
Improved Super Bowl XX: Bears vs. Dolphins - Evaluating the Matchup
Chicago likely would have opened as a 4 to 6 point favorite over the Dolphins, but there would be plenty of buzz wondering if Dan Marino would once again orchestrate the success he had against the Bears back in December. Marino would always be the arch-nemesis for a defense whose success relies on pressuring and intimidating the opposing passer, especially the 1985 Bears and their 46 Defense. Chicago was 3rd in the NFL in sacks with four per game, but over the final 11 games led the NFL and averaged nearly 4.5 sacks per game. During the defensive prime of Ditka’s Bears (1984-1988), when they recorded 4 sacks or more in a game, they had a 37-4 record. When the Bears recorded fewer than 2 sacks a game, they were just 13-9 – in other words: human.
Unfortunately for the Bears, avoiding sacks was Dan Marino’s specialty. According to Pro Football Reference’s advanced stat, Sack% (the percentage of dropbacks resulting in sacks), Dan Marino was not only the most difficult to quarterback to sack in 1985, but he was also the most difficult quarterback to sack of all time. During that same 1984-1988 time frame used above, Dan Marino was sacked an average of just 0.88 times per game. He had only been sacked 4 times in a game twice – losing both times. If Marino could avoid the rush, he would have opened passing lanes against a pass rush focused defense. Then he could take advantage of man-to-man coverage with his trio of past and future Pro Bowl Wide Receivers Mark Clayton, Mark Duper, and Nat Moore.
While most of the intrigue would come from Marino vs. The 46 Defense, the other matchup would have been equally as important. Miami had just the 23rd ranked defense. The 1985 Bears’ offense played the best it would ever play under Mike Ditka. They were second in the NFL in points and number one in nearly every rushing category. If Miami’s 23rd ranked rushing defense could somehow slow down all-time leading rusher Walter Payton and the Bears rushing attack, they could put pressure on the Bears sluggish passing attack. Bears QB Jim McMahon may be a top ten personality of all time, but he was never a great passer that could carry an offense alone. If Chicago had to rely on McMahon and their 20th ranked passing game to match Dan Marino and the Dolphins offense step for step, they were in big trouble.
There is no reason to believe that the Dolphins would have been able to stop the Bears on the ground. After seeing the Patriots’ 6th ranked rushing attack gash the Dolphins for 255 yards in the real 1985, it’s hard to not expect the Bears to do the same thing. Chicago would have likely tried to control the clock, as they would not want to tempt fate that Marino could have recreated his Monday Night heroics. Chicago likely would not have taken so many chances throwing downfield like they did against a New England team they knew couldn’t score. Given limited opportunities, Marino would feel pressured to make plays. He likely would have hit some, but Chicago’s 46 defense was still one of the greatest ever. They would have pressured Marino, sacked him a few times, and likely forced an interception or two. The Bears win, tie San Francisco for the most single-season wins in NFL history and still carry both coaches off the field.
Chicago 27 Miami 14
MVP: Walter Payton
This modified Super Bowl XX brings up two interesting discussions that I wanted to comment on in a special bonus section. The first revolves around Dan Marino. Throughout this project, there are many other times I could have put the Dolphins into the Super Bowl, most notably 1992 and 1994, but didn’t, because neither of those teams would have fared any better than the two teams who were actually pummeled in those respective Super Bowls. It really illustrated that Marino never had a great opportunity to win a Super Bowl. He was a great player, but the teams he played on were never the best in the NFL. Many times, such as 1990, his best teams weren’t even the best in their own division. It would have taken a transcendent run of play for Dan Marino to have won a Super Bowl. He could not have had the playoff run that many of the other great Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks had and won a championship. When he played poorly in the AFC Championship Game, he did not have a defensive tackle intercept the ball and score a game-winning touchdown as Aaron Rodgers did. If he would have thrown for barely 100 yards and a touchdown in the rain, he would have not won 44-15, like Steve Young in the 1994 playoffs, or 35-14, like Brett Favre in the 1996 playoffs. While Joe Montana played spectacularly in the playoffs, he needed to produce just 12.7 points per game to be victorious in his four championship runs. Marino’s Dolphins scored an average of 20.5 in his playoff career and they still went 8-10 in playoff games. I could go on and on. The point is, for whatever reason, the stars were never aligned for Marino to win a championship through little fault of his own. He’s still one of the greatest of all time and much better than many quarterbacks who do have rings.
The other thought that came out of changing Super Bowl XX was the effect it would have on the 1985 Chicago Bears legacy. They are often considered one of, if not the greatest team in NFL history. So much of that comes from how memorable they are. People who are not big sports fans, but were old enough to watch Super Bowl XX live, remember the Bears and the beatdown they administered to the Patriots. But even among sports fans, the mythological reputation of the 1985 Chicago Bears comes from the indelible imagery of Super Bowl XX – Richard Dent tossing around Craig James like he was a rag doll, Tony Eason diving to the ground for safety prior to the arrival of six unimpeded pass rushers, William “the Refrigerator” Perry crashing over the Patriot line for a touchdown and spiking the ball with all his might. If you replace the real Super Bowl XX with the one I proposed above, all of that would go away. The Bears would still have been champions and still have been 18-1, but the part that makes them unforgettable is replaced by other more forgettable great plays. Would this team still be mentioned on lazy NFL Network countdowns and ESPN documentaries as unquestionably above the other equally dominant teams of the same era who didn’t have as remarkable capstones? I doubt it. The 18-1 1984 49ers and the 17-2 1986 Giants were arguably every bit good as the Bears, but few outside of the dedicated fan of NFL history thinks of them as being as good as the 1985 Bears. Tell me, which is the most memorable play of the Giants Super Bowl XXI win? Or the 49ers Super Bowl XIX win? I would bet even the hardcore NFL history fans had trouble recalling even one. The Super Bowl XX destruction of the Patriots made the Bears memorable. If not for that, perhaps they would be remembered as one of the most underachieving teams in NFL history. A team that followed up their Super Bowl title by losing at home in the playoffs each of the next three years. As a team who won just two more playoff games under Mike Ditka despite making the playoffs five more times. If this scenario were true, the Bears keep their championship, but perhaps the 1985 Bears get tossed back into the pile of Super Bowl champions that no one other than fans of that particular team and hardcore football fans remember.
Tomorrow it’s Number 1! At the time, I wanted any Super Bowl but this one. Now, there isn’t a game in NFL history I’d rather see.
Green and Gold Forever
Green and Gold Forever