December 2, 2009

1985: Dolphins Hand Bears Only Loss of Season

The December 2, 1985 showdown at Miami’s Orange Bowl between the Dolphins (8-4) and Chicago Bears (12-0) may have been a regular season contest, but had all the feel of a playoff game. The game was scheduled for a Monday night, thereby increasing the exposure and hype (it remains the highest rated telecast in the history of Monday Night Football).

Under Head Coach Mike Ditka, the Bears not only had a perfect record coming into the game, but had typically dominated opponents throughout the season. The offense was solid, but the defense was what made the team special; utilizing defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan’s attacking 46 Defense, the team rolled up scores of 45-10 over Washington and 26-10 over the defending champion 49ers. They had recorded dominating back-to-back shutouts of the Dallas Cowboys (44-0) and Atlanta Falcons (36-0) in the previous two games.

The Dolphins, reigning AFC champs, weren’t in the same class defensively but featured an excellent passing game guided by third-year QB Dan Marino, who was coming off a record-setting year in 1984. Miami also was the only NFL franchise to have a team go undefeated throughout a season and continue on to win a championship, in 1972, a fact of which Head Coach Don Shula made sure his players were well aware. The frenzied crowd of 75,000 in attendance certainly was.

The Bears hadn’t allowed a touchdown in 13 quarters going into the game, but Marino ended that streak four minutes into the first quarter by firing a 33-yard TD pass to WR Nat Moore. Bears QB Steve Fuller, making his fourth consecutive start in place of injured starter Jim McMahon, hit WR Willie Gault on a 69-yard pass play down to the Miami 11 yard line and then tied the game with a one-yard TD on a quarterback sneak that tied the score at 7-7. However, when Fuad Reveiz responded with a 47-yard field goal, the Dolphins took the lead and never relinquished it.

Miami effectively put the game away in the second quarter. RB Ron Davenport scored twice from a yard out, with a 30-yard Kevin Butler field goal for the Bears sandwiched in between. The second Davenport score had been set up when the Dolphins converted two third downs – first, a 52-yard gain on a pass from Marino to WR Mark Duper on third and 12, and then 26 yards from Marino to WR Mark Clayton to the one yard line on third and 7. Shortly after the second Davenport TD, CB William Judson blocked a Maury Buford punt to give the Dolphins the ball at the Chicago six yard line. This set up Marino’s second TD pass to Moore to make the score 31-10 at halftime. Miami had scored on each of its first five possessions.

The Bears scored twice in the third quarter, but any possible comeback was negated by a poor kickoff by Kevin Butler after the first TD, giving the Dolphins good field position at the Chicago 46. Three plays later, Clayton scored on a 42-yard pass play from Marino (the ball was actually tipped by DE Dan Hampton) for a 38-17 lead. Neither team scored in the fourth quarter, and in the end it was a stunning Miami victory at 38-24.

In the statistical battle, the Bears outgained the Dolphins with 343 total yards to 335 and accumulated more first downs as well (23-17). But Chicago turned the ball over four times, three on interceptions, and Miami capitalized on the opportunities. They also out-sacked the Bears, 6 to 3.

Dan Marino completed just 14 of 27 passes, but they were good for 270 yards with three touchdowns against one interception. All of the receptions were made by wide receivers – Mark Duper and Mark Clayton each caught five passes, with Duper leading in yards with 107 to Clayton’s 88, and Nat Moore contributed 4 receptions for 75 yards, including two TDs. Miami gained 90 rushing yards on the tough Bears defense, with RB Tony Nathan leading the way with 74 yards on 15 carries. Chicago’s great RB Walter Payton had a typically solid performance in a losing cause, gaining 121 yards on 23 attempts; it was his record-setting eighth consecutive hundred-yard rushing game.

For the season, Marino didn’t match his awe-inspiring statistics of 1984, but all the same led the NFL in pass completions (336), passing yards (4137), and TD passes (30). Clayton caught 70 passes for 996 yards and four TDs while Duper, injured for half the season, hauled in 35 passes for 650 yards and three scores. The 34-year-old Moore had 51 catches for 701 yards – his highest totals since 1977 – and led all Miami receivers with 7 touchdown catches.

The Bears went undefeated the rest of the way, finishing at 15-1 and winning the NFC Championship. Miami also won its remaining regular season games, closing out at 12-4 atop the AFC East, but the anticipated Super Bowl rematch between the teams was derailed when New England upset the Dolphins in the AFC Championship game. Chicago easily won the ensuing Super Bowl over the Patriots by a 46-10 margin.