The Redskins didn't think this season could get much worse, but they were wrong. For a half today, they were as horrible as a team could be, and now, even the players aren't sure when their dreadful performances will end.
Washington put up hardly any challenge in the first 30 minutes, when Chicago ran up 35 unanswered points. And not even a decent second half against the now-conservative Bears could take away the sting of this embarrassing 35-21 defeat.
Coach Jack Pardee didn't say his players quit in that first half. But he clearly questioned their determination and toughness.
"There is no way we can be that bad a football team," he said at one point. But he also admitted the obvious: the Redskins "played like we had a half-dozen guys on the field while they played like they had 11."
"We have to get tougher," he said. "We can't let mistakes and the turn of events get us down and affect the whole team. If the offense makes a mistake, the defense can't get discouraged. And the same with the offense when the defense breaks down.
"We aren't to the stage where we are mature and tough enough to make things tough enough for our opponents. We have to play with more abandon, we have to force something to happen. Football is simple. It's man-to-man matchups. tYou have to have more guys win the fight than lose it. We just had too many guys losing the fight in the first half."
But where does the Redskin slide end? They are 3-7 with the hardest stretch of their schedule coming up, starting with Philadelphia Sunday at RFK Stadium. The playes say they are trying, they are practicing hard and that they haven't given up. Still, the Redskins looked even worse than they did in last week's 39-14 debacle against the Vikings.
"We are searching for answers," guard Jeff Williams said. "It was 35-0 in this one before we could turn around. We've got to keep playing, we can't quit, we just can't keep playing this badly all the time."
Said linebacker Monte Coleman: "After the way we played last week, you want to come out and play good. We wanted to prove to our fans that we have a better team than we've shown. And then this happened."
What happened was a nightmare colored in the Bears' orange, navy blue and white. What happened was a Chicago game plan that had the Redskins pegged perfectly. What happened was that a strong-armed quarterback named Vince Evans shredded the talented Washington secondary with the precision of a heart surgeon.
Chicago was 3-6 entering the game; Washington made the Bears look like Super Bowl contenders. The knockout came quickly. The Redskins were reeling after surrendering three stunning touchdowns in the first 12 minutes. They were counted out after two more touchdowns in the second quarter. Chicago appeared to be able to score at will by intermission, only to decide to sit on the lead for the final two quarters.
Only that decision saved Washington from an even worse drubbing.
"We didn't know how to handle a 35-0 lead," explained Bear Coach Neill Armstong.
The Bears apparently don't know how to deal with prosperity. They had not scored more than 24 points in a game all season. And the last time they scored 21 points in the first quarter was in 1953. But today they put on a first half clinic against Washington 's struggling defense.
The game was only three minutes old when Walter Payton, who finished with 107 yards, burst uup the gut of that defense and raced 50 yards for a touchdown without much pursuit by the Redskin secondary.
The plays later, Wilbur Jackson fumbled after catching a Joe Theismann pass and Chicago recovered on its 42. Evans wasted little time keeping Washington off balance. After one first down, he found wide receiver James Scott over the middle, not a Redskin defender within five yards. Only 3:16 had expired since Payton's score.
On Washington's third possession of the game, Theismann tried to pass from his five, but defensive tackle Alan Page hit his arm and the ball wobbled to linebacker Gary Campbell, who returned it to the three. The Bears needed only three plays to get a touchdown, with fullback Roland Harper powering over form the two. The clock showed two minutes left in the period.
The Redskins gained only 47 yards that quarter, the Bears 151.1. The Redskins didn't have a first down and twice were stopped on third and short. The Bears had six first downs and converted four of five third downs.
On the first play of the second quarter, Payton made a fine over-the-shoulder catch of an Evans pass and beat linebacker Rich Milot to the end zone for a 28-0 lead. And on the next-to-the-last play of the half, Evans connected with Scott again, this time for a 12-yard touchdown.
Evans' halftime statistics were dazzling: nine of 13 passes completed for 189 yards and two scores. Payton had rushed for 67 yards and the Bears had amassed 300 yards to Washington's 154. Television sets all over the nation's capital probably were being turned off as Pardee appealed to his players' pride during his intermission talk.
"We didn't give up in the second half, we showed some pride," Pardee said. His team did get a seven-yard touchdown run by Theismann and Theismann scoring passes of three yards to Rickey Claitt and 16 to Ricky Thompson. But the game had been over since the half.
The Bears rolled up 364 yards, and now Washington has surrendered 765 in the last two games. Evans finished with 210 passing although throwing ony five passes in the last half.
Theismann was impressive in defeat. He scratched and scrambled all day, whirling away from an intense pass rush to run for 64 yards and pass for 305, his second best day as a pro. He completed a career-high 24 passes on 34 attempts, including eight (for 124 yards) to rookie Art Monk.
Otherwise, the Redskins were dismal. By early in the third period, they had lost both starting running backs, Clarence Harmon (ankle sprain) and Jackson (bruised shoulder), and wound up playing Claitt and Ike Forte in the backfield. They once tried to block a Bob Parsons punt, only to have Parsons drop the ball before Jeris White could deflect it, then pick it up and run for the first down. Another time, Parsons shanked a punt, but the ball rolled 25 yards before being downed at the Washington one.
Toss in a bunch of untimely penalties that always seemed to happen whenever the Redskins had good offensive gains, mix in a sputtering pass rush that rarely put pressure on Evans and combine all that with a pass defense that hardly ever was close to a Bear receiver -- and the result was gruesome.
Perhaps the Redskin problems were best illustrated by a second-half Milot interception. Milot tried to evade a couple of tacklers but, in the process, kept retreating. He wound up losing 10 yards.
"We are what, 10 games into the season and what is the answer to all this?" Pardee asked before answering himself. "We can't get discouraged we just can't give in when things don't go right."
But today, the Redskins did give in.
"You started praying that things didn't get worse," defensive end Coy Bacon said. "They could have wiped us out. They could have done anything they wanted."
Besides Jackson and Harmon, the only player newly injured was Thompson, whose ribs were bruised when he was smashed by safety Gary Fencik after his touchdown catch. Tackle Terry Hermeling did not play because of his sore thumb.