Flash forward to 2014 and those same Monsters are looking more like stuffed teddy bears. The team couldn’t have laid a bigger egg in their home opener, dropping an overtime heartbreaker to the lowly Buffalo Bills, 23-20.
Now, the Bears will hit the road to visit one of the NFC’s best, the San Francisco 49ers, to help them christen Levi’s Stadium.
Why did I mention 1985 to start this post? Well, like any other Bears team since, this team can learn quite a bit by studying the ’85 team. That was obviously the last time the Bears won the title.
But there was another significant thing they did nearly 30 years ago that hasn’t been repeated since. Therein lies the key to getting their season back on track in Week Two for the Bears.
They haven’t won on the road against the 49ers since.
Not to say they haven’t tried. Well… maybe they haven’t. In the eight road meetings since, the Bears have been outscored 271 to 49. Let that sink in for a second.
It gets worse.
Outside of a 10-6 defensive scrum back in 2009, none of the other games had a margin of defeat less than 17 points. The Bears gave up 40+ points on four occasions, including a 52 point onslaught in 1991 courtesy of Steve Young and Jerry Rice.
But if the Bears were to look back at the box score from that game nearly 30 years ago, they’d find the blueprint for success against their foes out west.
In case you were too lazy to click the link, I’ll sum it up in two words: GAME MANAGEMENT.
I can hear you yawning at your computer screen already. I get it. In today’s NFL, we want bombs. We want touchdowns. WE WANT ACTION!
But in this situation, nickel-and-diming their way to victory is exactly what the doctor ordered for the Bears this week, just as it was in 1985.
Sweetness racked up 132 yards and led the offense to 22 first downs. The 9ers only managed 11. Jim McMahon threw one pick for the Bears’ lone turnover; the defense forced two. The o-line gave up a single sack; the defense mauled Joe Montana on seven occasions. The Bears were called for seven penalties; the 9ers called for 13.
Now, you can’t ask this current Bears team to rely on the run like when they had Payton because that’s simply not the way they’re set up. But you can and should expect the passing game to operate efficiently enough to replicate those results.
So let’s run through a quick comparison between then and now, shall we?
In ’85, the Bears won the turnover battle. Despite what the haters may think, Jay Cutler has the ability to maintain possession. He’s thrown for one or fewer interceptions 48 times in his Bears career. Seeing that the 9ers keyed in on three early Tony Romo interceptions to virtually seal their Week One victory by halftime, ball security is paramount.
The ’85 o-line gave up only one sack, allowed McMahon time in the pocket and plenty of room for Sweetness to maneuver. As bad as the team looked last week, the line only allowed two sacks against the Bills’ pass rush (their strong suit) and sprung Matt Forte for nearly five yards a pop. That will need to continue.
As for the penalties, it all comes down to discipline. With the defense looking as shaky as it has throughout the preseason up until this point, every inch of field position will be crucial.
Which brings me to the most crucial aspect of replicating the success from nearly 30 years ago: the defense. Seven sacks and two fumble recoveries reeks of “only the ’85 Bears.” When comparing this year’s defense against the one of old, there is no comparison. Last week, the line produced one sack and will need to step up big time if the Bears have any plans of throwing Colin Kaepernick’s motion-based offense off rhythm.
But outside of the defense stepping up in a big way, is there any area of execution that the Bears displayed in ’85 that couldn’t be asked of this team?
If Cutler makes sound decisions, he can dink and dunk the 9ers to death with the quick-strike pass plays this offense was designed for. The passing game can act as a pseudo-running game. No need for the long drop backs and bombs; the ’85 recipe didn’t call for any of those, and neither should this week’s gameplan.
Short drops and an efficient passing game can mitigate the 9ers rush, keep the chains moving and keep the clock ticking. Proper discipline can lead to less penalties and better field position.
These, my friends, are known as fundamentals. The Bears don’t need to wow any of us on any single play this week. They need to wow us with the outcome. If the tactics to get there may seem boring, so be it. I’d be more impressed with a notch in the win column.
Will they win this one? I'm not too confident. But if they knew where to look (ahem, their own past), they can find the blueprint.