November 7, 2015

1954: Bears Rally to Defeat Packers with Fourth Quarter TDs

The Chicago Bears had a 3-3 record as they hosted their arch-rivals, the Green Bay Packers, on November 7, 1954. Coached by “the Papa Bear”, owner George Halas, the Bears, who started the season off slowly, were benefiting from the play of rookie end Harlon Hill, who was proving to be a potent deep receiving threat. Veteran FB Harry “Chick” Jagade, obtained from the Browns, helped the running attack while Halas alternated veteran QB George Blanda with rookie Zeke Bratkowski.

Green Bay was under the guidance of first-year Head Coach Lisle Blackbourn and, after starting off with three losses, had reeled off three straight wins to come into the game with Chicago also at 3-3. QB Tobin Rote was a talented, if inconsistent, passer and rookie end Max McGee bolstered the receiving corps.

There were 47,038 fans in attendance at Wrigley Field. Chicago jumped out to the early lead thanks largely to the passing of George Blanda. He threw to end Jim Dooley for a 40-yard touchdown to complete a 72-yard drive in seven plays. Blanda, also the team’s placekicker, added the extra point.

Following an unsuccessful field goal attempt by Green Bay’s Fred Cone, Blanda then passed the Bears down the field on a 10-play, 54-yard series leading to a two-yard carry for a TD by Chick Jagade. Two of those throws were nearly intercepted but dropped and the Packers were flagged on a questionable pass interference call as well. Blanda again converted.

Down by 14-0, the Packers scored twice in the last ten minutes of the first half. A 49-yard possession that took 10 plays resulted in a four-yard scoring pass from Tobin Rote to Max McGee. Soon afterward, HB Veryl Switzer (pictured at left) grabbed a punt on the bounce and returned it 93 yards, getting several good blocks along the way as he raced down the sideline. A bad snap from center caused the extra point attempt to go awry as Fred Cone’s kick was blocked, but Chicago’s lead was narrowed to 14-13 at halftime.

Midway through the third quarter, Cone kicked a 30-yard field goal and the visitors jumped ahead by 16-14. That remained the situation until early in the fourth quarter when the Packers extended their lead following an interception of a Blanda pass by safety Clarence Self. Self returned the pickoff 22 yards and, on the next play, McGee caught a pass from Rote and made an outstanding run for a 37-yard touchdown. Cone converted and Green Bay was up by 23-14.

With 7:42 left to play the Bears were down by nine points and faced fourth-and-three at their own 48. Zeke Bratkowski’s high kick was fumbled by Switzer as he was hit by DE Ted Daffer. C/LB Wayne Hansen scooped the ball up and returned it 14 yards for a touchdown. Blanda converted to make it a two-point game at 23-21.

The Packers responded by advancing methodically to the Chicago 35 thanks to two passes by Rote and a penalty on the Bears. However, the drive stalled and Cone’s 46-yard field goal attempt was wide with the time now down to 4:05. Taking over at their 20, the Bears ran six plays and got first downs on passes from Blanda to FB Pete Perini for 20 yards and end Bill McColl for 26. Another pass, which HB Don Kindt grabbed away from two defenders, gained 21 yards and put the ball at the Green Bay seven. On the next play, Blanda, heavily pressured by DT Dave Hanner, threw to HB/OE John Hoffman in the corner of the end zone for a TD. The Bears were in front by five points with just over two minutes left to play.

The Packers went to the air and Rote (pictured at right) completed six passes, the longest covering 38 yards to HB Al Carmichael, to reach the Chicago 16. But time was running out and, on the game’s final play, Rote lost hold of the ball and DE Ed Sprinkle recovered as the gun sounded. Chicago won by a final score of 28-23.

The Bears led in total yards (382 to 335) while the teams were even in first downs with 21 apiece and turnovers with two. Each club was also penalized six times.

George Blanda completed 24 of 46 passes for 279 yards and two touchdowns while giving up two interceptions. John Hoffman caught 9 passes for 110 yards and a TD, helped by the Packers double-teaming Harlon Hill, and also ran the ball 12 times for 60 yards. For the Packers, Tobin Rote was successful on 17 of 42 throws for 204 yards and two TDs with none intercepted. Max McGee had five catches.

The Bears lost to the Browns the next week but won their four remaining games to finish second in the Western Conference at 8-4. Green Bay went in the opposite direction, beating the Colts but then losing the last four contests to end up fifth with a 4-8 record.

George Blanda suffered a shoulder injury that cost him the last four games of the season but still ranked third in touchdown passes (15), fourth in pass attempts (281), and sixth in passing yards (1929). John Hoffman tied his career high with 28 catches, which gained 354 yards. His winning touchdown against the Packers was his only scoring reception although he had three rushing TDs.

Tobin Rote topped the NFL in pass attempts (382) and completions (180) and placed second in passing yards (2311). He also rushed for 301 yards and eight touchdowns. Max McGee completed his first pro season with 36 catches for 614 yards (17.1 avg.) and ranked fourth in the league with nine receiving TDs.