The Chicago Bears led the National Football League in total defense this season, were tops against the rush and set a league record for sacks with 72.
Perhaps that's why they were a bit resentful when asked if they were surprised at how easily they overpowered the Washington Redskins' offensive line in yesterday's 23-19 playoff victory at RFK Stadium.
The Bears gave up 336 total yards to Washington, 95 more than they allowed per game this season. Their defense, however, continually exerted pressure on Washington quarterback Joe Theismann, sacking him seven times, and preventing the Redskins from executing their regular offense. On most other passing plays, Theismann was being hurried or hit as he threw. Rarely did he have time to look deep.
"It shouldn't surprise anyone that we were able to do that," Bears left tackle Steve McMichael said. "We had more sacks this year than anyone in the history of football. The pressure we put on today was the same we've been doing every week. We had Theismann running scared back there. He was running around like a scared rabbit."
The Redskins' offensive line was hit again yesterday by the injury bug when right guard Ken Huff broke his left ankle late in the first quarter. He was replaced by Morris Towns, who had spent most of the season on injured reserve.
"Injuries happen," said Chicago tackle Dan Hampton, who had two sacks. "We had them, too. If their vaunted Hogs (Washington's offensive line) can't withstand the loss of their right guard, who isn't even one of their regulars, then I don't know what to say."
Right end Richard Dent, who along with teammates Hampton, linebacker Mike Singletary and safety Todd Bell, will start in the Pro Bowl, had three sacks. He led the NFC this year with 17 1/2, yet drew only one blocker yesterday.
"I was surprised they were blocking me one on one, but I guess they thought (Joe) Jacoby could handle me," said Dent. "In the first half, he did a pretty good job, but in the second half, I kept getting around him. Starting out the game, Theismann was throwing very quick five- or six-step drops, but those nickel passes really can't beat you. When he had to go deep, we were able to pressure him."
Chicago Coach Mike Ditka, who has fought off rumors most of the season that he might be fired and instead has taken the Bears within one game of the Super Bowl, said his team's intensity never wavered yesterday.
"We just played relentless football," said Ditka. "When you play relentless football, good things happen."
Chicago hardly was relentless offensively, but quarterback Steve Fuller played well for having been out four weeks with a separated shoulder.
Fuller, one of six quarterbacks the Bears have used this year -- first-stringer Jim McMahon was knocked out of the lineup Nov. 4 -- completed nine of 15 for 211 yards and two touchdowns. Most important, he did not throw an interception. During the regular season, he threw 78 passes without being intercepted.
But it was not Fuller who threw the game's key pass. That distinction belonged to running back Walter Payton, who threw a 19-yard touchdown to tight end Pat Dunsmore to give the Bears a 10-3 lead with 2:00 left in the first half.
On that play, Fuller, moving to his left, handed off to Payton, who rolled right. Payton faked a reverse left to wide receiver Dennis McKinnon, then lofted a pass to a wide-open Dunsmore in the right corner of the end zone.
"I guaranteed it would be a touchdown when I called the play because of how much in their safeties were playing," said Ditka. "He was so wide open it was scary. I was afraid he was going to drop the ball."
On the second play of the third quarter, Fuller threw a simple 15-yard out pass to Willie Gault. Gault, a former world-class sprinter who was getting single coverage from Darrell Green the entire game, turned it into a 75-yard touchdown and a 16-3 Chicago lead.
"I don't know if he was going for the ball or what," Gault said. "I felt him around my leg and I knew I could get out of it. Once I got away, I knew it was a touchdown because the only person in this league who can catch me is Roy Green (of the St. Louis Cardinals)."
After John Riggins' one-yard touchdown that cut the lead to 16-10, Fuller guided the Bears on a 77-yard, nine-play drive that resulted in a 16-yard touchdown to McKinnon for a 23-10 advantage.
The drive was kept going when Ken Coffey was called for running into punter Dave Finzer, giving Chicago a first down at the Washington 30. Finzer said after the game that Coffey just brushed him.
Two plays later, Fuller threw the touchdown pass to McKinnon.
"I thought about running -- the only ones there were Dennis, the defensive back (Coffey) and myself," said Fuller. "When I stepped up, the defensive back took a couple of steps toward me and I threw it."
Dent said the Bears will play the same type of strong defensive football against the San Francisco 49ers and hope the offense comes up with big plays.
"We are just going out there to play more beat-'em-up, push-'em-back football and we'll see what happens," he said.