The Chicago Bears annihilated the St. Louis Cardinals, 42-6, today and two hours later became an NFC wild-card playoff team when the Washington Redskins lost to the Dallas Cowboys.
The Bears earned the right to play the Eagles in Philadelphia next Sunday in a first-round playoff game by edging the Redskins by fours in the point-differential tie breaker.
Chicago entered the game trailing Washington by 33, but beat the Cardinals by 36 points, putting Washington into a win-or-else position against Dallas.
"We're overjoyed by what happened," said Bear Coach Neil Armstrong, who listened to the Redskin game on a small transistor radio in the middle of the dressing room after all the Bears had departed.
"I don't know if anyone thought we could make up the point differential. I just felt something good would happen today. I've been here two years and this is the most points we've scored.
"Even if Washington had won I would still feel we had a great year. Without a doubt this is my finest hour as the Bears' coach.
"Under the circumstances, I have never seen a game like this. It's hard enough to win in this league without having to make up a 33-point differential at the same time.
"The only time I got excited was when Dallas got the ball on the eight-yard line. I was afraid something would happen and they wouldn't score. eThen when the Redskins got the ball back I was just hoping the Cowboys would get another interference call."
On the final Redskin drive, Armstrong kept repeating "Don't let Moseley on the field."
"We did all we could and I felt everything would work out for us if we did that," said Payton. "I had no doubts we'd get in..
"After we won as easily as we did, it just wouldn't have been right if we didn't get in, said offensive guard Revie Sorey. "I love Dallas, I love Dallas."
The Bears also could have made the playoffs by capturing the NFC Central title, but by halftime here today Tampa Bay had clinched the crown with a 3-0 win over Kansas City in Florida.
Chicago, knowing it had to win by a large margin, junked its normally conservative ball-control offense for a wide-open, gambling attack in frigid Soldier Field.
Even with the Bears' uncharacteristic attack, which featured a fake field goal, a fake punt and a double-reverse pass, Walter Payton was able to rush for 157 yards on 33 carries and overtake St. Louis' Ottis Anderson for the NFC rushing championship.
Payton finished with 1,610 yards to Anderson's 1,605.
Anderson, the rookie from Miami, twisted his left knee in the third quarter and didn't play at all in the final period after gaining only 39 yards in 14 carries.
Payton scored three touchdowns as the fired-up Bears, who finished the season at 10-6, scored more points at Soldier Field today than they had in 14 years.
"We jumped on them early with all sorts of things before they had a chance to know what happened," said Payton. "The only thing coach told us before the game was that we had to win and we had to win big."
"The Bears wanted to play more than we did," said Cardinal guard Bob Young. "They had something on the line, we didn't. Some of our guys didn't seem like they wanted to play."
The Cardinals played right into the Bears' hands as they looked inept and anxious to pack up for the winter. Their only score came on a 13-yard third quarter pass from Jim Hart to Pat Tilley to cut a 21-0 halftime lead to 21-6. Steve Little's extra point try was blocked.
The Bears got that score right back on the ensuing kickoff when rookie wide receiver Ricky Watts returned Little's kick 83 yards for a Chicago touchdown.
Hart was injured on the pass to Tilley and was through for the day. Hart had relieved a woefully ineffective Steve Pisarkiewicz, who went two for nine for 15 yards in the first half.
For the game, Pisarkiewicz completed five of 28 for 65 yards and was scored eight times for 47 yards in losses.
Chicago quarterback Mike Phipps did much better than that in the first quarter alone when he completed eight of nine passes for 95 yards and a touchdown.
For the day, Phipps went 18 of 33 for 233 yards and two touchdowns. Both he and Pisarkiewicz were intercepted twice.
Despite snow, a 25-mile-per-hour crosswind and a windd chill factor of minus-15 degrees, Phipps threw the ball on four of Chicago's first seven plays, and the Bears marched right up the field and scored on a one-yard Payton run.
The next time they got the ball they zipped 68 yards in eight plays, Phipps passing four more times including the last 11 yards for the touchdown to Dave Williams.
The Bears made it 21-0 six plays after Allen Ellis intercepted a Pisarkiewicz pass and returned it 22 yards to the Cardinal 45. Payton got his second touchdown of the day on a five-yard sweep.
The Bears' last score, the one that gave them the points they needed in the point differential with the Redskins, came on a 35-yard pass-run from Phipps to Watts with 6:20 to play.
The Bears got possession at their 19 after a fourth down Cardinal pass was incomplete. On first down, Phipps threw 16 yards to Payton and on second down Payton burst off his left guard and weaved his way for 30 yards on his most impressive run of the day, taking the ball to the Cardinal 35.
Phipps then threw a short flat pass to Watts and the rookie from Tulsa sidestepped linebacker Kurt Allerman and then outran Ken Greene and Ken Stone, a former Redskin, into the end zone.
From then on, the Bears' objective was to keep St. Louis from scoring, which wasn't very difficult, and to get Payton the 39 yards he needed at that point to overtake Anderson.
Payton carried the ball six of the next nine plays, picking up 44 yards and eclipsing the rookie star.
"In the huddle Revie Sorey just said to follow him and they'd get me the yards" Payton said.