November 17, 2011

1940: Redskins Beat Bears, Setting Stage for Title Game Showdown

The teams best positioned to vie for the NFL Championship met in Week 9 of the regular season at Washington’s Griffith Stadium on November 17, 1940. The Redskins, coached by Ray Flaherty, were 7-1 and had lost for the first time the week before at Brooklyn. Washington had the league’s best passer in tailback Sammy Baugh, who split time with his capable backup, Frank Filchock, in operating the team’s double-wing offense. The receiving corps of ends Charley Malone and Wayne Millner was a good one, as was HB Dick Todd (pictured at right), a solid receiver as well as runner, and FB Jimmy Johnston.

The Bears, owned and coached by George Halas, utilized the T-formation and had added an outstanding group of rookies, most notably HB George McAfee, end Ken Kavanaugh, tackle Lee Artoe, and center Clyde “Bulldog” Turner to a solid core of young veterans that included QB Sid Luckman, FB Bill Osmanski, HB Ray Nolting, G Dan Fortmann, and T Joe Stydahar. Chicago came into the contest at 6-2, also having lost its last game at Detroit.

There was a crowd of 35,331 in attendance at Griffith Stadium. The Bears took the lead following McAfee’s recovery of a fumble by Washington back Bob Hoffman at the Chicago 38. Nolting and McAfee made long gains on runs that got the ball to the Washington 30. Jack Manders capped the drive by kicking a 33-yard field goal and the Bears held a 3-0 lead late in the first quarter.

Baugh completed a nine-yard pass to Millner to end the opening period, and with substitutions gave way to Filchock for the second quarter. Filchock (pictured below) was effective as he completed passes to end Bob Masterson for first downs. They set up a touchdown throw to Todd, who caught the ball at the Chicago 22 and dodged five defenders on his way to the end zone. Bo Russell kicked the extra point and Washington had a four-point lead. It would prove to be enough, but barely.

The Bears dominated the second half but couldn’t score. Four times they had the ball inside the Washington 15 yard line and came up empty. Sammy Baugh affected the outcome more with his leg than his arm thanks to some outstanding punts that kept Chicago from starting drives in good field position.

The Redskins had a chance to extend their lead when Baugh completed a pass to wingback Ed Justice to the Chicago 13. But his throw into the end zone on the next play was intercepted by DB Solly Sherman. McAfee punted 77 yards with the ball going out of bounds at the Chicago three. Baugh punted it back to the Bears’ 33. Chicago’s drive lasted five plays and the Bears had to turn the ball over on downs.

With 25 seconds left in the game, QB Bob Snyder passed from midfield to McAfee at the 12, who was stopped by Todd a foot short of a game-winning touchdown. Chicago called for a timeout to stop the clock and suffered a five-yard penalty. Luckman threw a pass that was batted away by Wilkin. With fans pouring onto the field, Luckman threw again, this time intended for end Ed Manske in the end zone, but it fell incomplete. Washington’s 7-3 margin in the second quarter remained the final score.

The Bears won the statistical battle as they outgained the Redskins (297 yards to 169) and had more first downs (16 to 11). They both out-rushed (149 to 44) and out-passed (148 to 125) Washington. However, they also turned the ball over one more time than the Redskins (three to two). Sammy Baugh completed 11 of 17 passes for 98 yards

Afterward, many of the Bears insisted that the receiver had been interfered with in the end zone on the climactic play of the game. This led Washington owner George Preston Marshall to state for publication that “the Bears are front-runners, quitters. They’re not a second-half team, just a bunch of cry-babies.”

Washington lost to the Giants the next week, but defeated the Eagles in the season finale to win the Eastern Division with a 9-2 record. The Bears won their final two games to finish at 8-3 atop the Western Division. Halas brought in his offensive consultant of long standing, Stanford Head Coach Clark Shaughnessy, in the period leading up to the NFL Championship game to design some new plays for the rematch with Washington. He also made certain that his players were well aware of owner Marshall’s comments about them in the wake of the 7-3 loss. The result in the title game was very different – a monumental 73-0 shellacking of the Redskins, the seeds of which were sown in the earlier meeting.