The Chicago Bears were still very much alive and growling in the race for an NFC playoff spot today after linebacker Tom Hick's 66-yard touchdown run with an intercepted pass keyed a tense 15-14 victory over the Green Bay Packers.
The victory moved the Bears into a tie with Tampa Bay for the National Football Conference's Central Division lead. Both are 9-6.
The Bear victory was not assured until Packer Tom Birney missed a 52-yard field goal attempt short and wide with 32 seconds left to play after Green Bay had recovered an onside kick.
The Bears will play host to the St. Louis Cardinals Sunday, while the Bucs will be home against Kansas City.
Should both teams win or lose their final games, Tampa will win the division race by virtue of a better division record. The Bears' other chance of making the playoffs is for the Redskins to lose and the Bears to overcome a 33-point net differential that now stands between them and the Redskins.
But the Bears conceded the point spread between them and the Redskins would be hard to overcome.
"Our best shot is winning the division," said Hicks. "Not only would Washington have to lose but they'd have to lose by a big amount and we'd have to win by a big amount. I'm not sure of the reality of that."
Although the Bears penetrated Green Bay territory 10 times, five times inside the Packer 17, Chicago could manage only three Bob Thomas field goals of 34, 35 and 44 yards on those possessions.
Thomas' third field goal at 9:25 of the final period upped "chicago's lead to 15-7. The Bears then had a chance to increase their lead, moving to the Green Bay 37.
But on fourth and one, Bear Coach Neill Armstrong elected to punt.
"We wanted to put more points on the board," he said. "But we were fighting for our lives. I would have loved to go for more points. But I wanted to win the game."
The punt team had the option of calling a run if Green Bay lined up in a certain formation. But the Packers didn't and the Bears punted.
Bob Parsons punted 29 yards and Johnny Gray returned eight yards, giving Green Bay possession at its 16 with 5:51 left. Dickey completed five passes in an 81-yard drive, including a 16-yarder to tight end Paul Coffman on fourth and 13 near midfield and a 22-yarder to Coffman for the touchdown with 1:33 left.
That was Dickey's second touchdown pass of the game to Coffman, the other a six-yarder in the second quarter that gave the Packers a 7-6 lead they did not yield until Hicks' interception.
The interception came after a 24-yard Dickey to Lofton pass had put Green Bay on the Chicago 30. The Packers had been successful with screen passes, so Starr called another, for halfback Rickey Patton, playing in place of a horde of injured Packer runners. It was a good call; the Bears had two linebackers blitzing.
Only Dickey made a horrible throw as he pressured by Bear lineman Alan Page. It was a lob pass, apparently up for grabs. Hicks grabbed it and, with a convoy of blockers, went 66 yards down the left sideline with his third interception and first touchdown in four years of pro ball.
"A player got to me fast," Dickey said later. "I thought I would just throw it away. I didn't see their defenders. . . in there. When I threw the ball, I thought my job was over. I was as low as I ever felt about losing a game. This game is really eating at my gut. It just makes me sick at my stomach I threw a ball like that."
David Simmons blocked Thomas conversion attempt, leaving the Bears ahead, 12-7, with 11:10 to play. The Bears again got a gift on the ensuing kickoff when Mike McCoy fumbled at the Green Bay 32 and Wentford Gaines recovered.
On third down, fullback Dave Williams juggled Mike Phipps' pass on the sideline. He finally caught it out of bounds -- typical of Chicago's problems of slips, slides, drops and bad throws today, when they converted just two of 14 third-down situations.
On fourth down at the Packer 27, Armstrong first sent the punt team on the field, then called time out and sent on the field-goal unit.
Green Bay's next possession resulted in another fumble, recovered by Chicago linebacker Gary Campbell at the Packer 46. When Chicago faced fourth and a long one at the 37, the Bears punted.
The Packers drove to their second touchdown, setting up Birney's successful onside kick (recovered by Wylie Turner at the Green Bay 45) and unsuccessful field goal try, the left-footed rookie's first miss in four tries since the Packers signed him to replace the injured Chester Marcol last month.
Birney's previous field goals before this game were from 25, 32 and 33 yards. His 52-yard attempt today could have been shorter, but Dickey fell to the ground for a three-yard loss on a third-down pass play, when his blockers failed to pick up a safety blitz.