Somebody better call the sheriff, real quick. The Chicago Bears are breaking apart every team, every expectation and every bit of law and pecking order in the National Football League.
Today, the Bears marched into the House of Walsh and beat the defending champion San Francisco 49ers, 26-10, before 60,523, the largest NFL regular-season crowd ever at Candlestick Park.
The Bears are 6-0 for the first time since 1942. How fitting, too, that in their moment of truth, Walter Payton was the man breaking tackles and perhaps dissolving the memories of two decades worth of Bears mediocrity.
Payton rushed 24 times for 132 yards and two touchdowns. His three-yard scoring run in the first quarter and his game-breaking 17-yard run for the game's final points with 3:41 to play sandwiched four field goals by rookie Kevin Butler, from 34, 38, 27 and 29 yards.
Furthermore, the Bears' defense played as if sent on a mission by George Halas. These descendants of the Monsters of the Midway held the 49ers' offense without a touchdown for the first time in two years, sacked quarterback Joe Montana an unprecedented seven times and held the 49ers to 183 total yards, fewest since Bill Walsh became coach here six seasons ago.
The 49ers had self-inflicted wounds, too, committing 13 penalties for 94 yards, ruining several lengthy drives.
As the 49ers drooped to 3-3, three games behind the streaking Los Angeles Rams -- the only team keeping up with Chicago's 6-0 -- Walsh came to the postgame news conference and announced, "I'm here to report that we got a sound beating today . . . There isn't any way to be a Cinderella team forever. You saw it for yourselves. We're now in a position in which we must be considered as an average football team."
And what are these Bears to be considered? It seems they can nearly start counting their magic number with 10 weeks yet to play. They possess a three-game lead over Detroit, Green Bay and Minnesota in the NFC Central Division.
"We're legitimate," safety Gary Fencik said. "We made a statement today. We're going someplace this year. Our 5-0 start wasn't a fluke."
"Coach (Mike) Ditka talked all week about us stepping up into a new era and a new plateau today," All-Pro defensive tackle Dan Hampton said. "We've wiped away all of the mystery about us."
That's not entirely true. It seems very mysterious that the Bears played today without their top two pass catchers (wide receiver Dennis McKinnon and tight end Emery Moorehead both have leg injuries), with their two best pass-rushers (Richard Dent and Hampton) ailing, with their fiery quarterback (Jim McMahon) failing to throw for a touchdown for the first time this season, and still beat the defending world champions good and clean and in their own yard.
You suppose these Bears are for real?
In fact, the only critical mistake the Bears made today came in the second quarter when, sitting on a 16-0 lead, McMahon was pressured by blitzing linebacker Todd Shell and heaved a ball into the heavens.
Safety Carlton Williamson intercepted and, picking up a few blocks, returned the ball 43 yards for a touchdown. By the half, the 49ers added a field goal and were, almost miraculously, within 16-10.
McMahon, who has made very few mistakes this season, admitted, "I got pressured and tried to throw the ball away. I didn't see the guy (Williamson) out there in the middle of the field."
Of course, McMahon also admitted, "A couple of guys on defense said before the game, 'If we get a lead early, we'll own them.' "
That's the most impressive thing about the Bears. Confidence? Check. Multiple weapons on offense? Check. A slew of turnover-causing defenders? Check. On a tear? You bet.
The Bears can make a mistake and still mug you, but good. After throwing on 24 of 37 first-half plays, the Bears ran nearly 70 percent of the time during the second half. They ran the 49ers right out of town with Payton accounting for 88 time-consuming yards in the second half alone.
On the last two plays of the game, the Bears did something they had practiced this week -- handoffs to defensive tackle William (The Refrigerator) Perry, who, depending on your viewpoint, weighs more than 325 pounds, but less than your average school bus.
Perry gained two yards on each carry and shuffled off the field with a smile. Said The Fridge, "When I got up from the pile and the 49ers saw that I was the ball carrier, their eyes got real big. My teammates loved it."
Afterward, the theory was posed that Ditka ordered Perry to run the ball as a rub-it-in-their-faces gesture to counter the fact that Walsh deployed 264-pound guard Guy McIntyre in his backfield near the end of San Francisco's 23-0 victory over the Bears in the conference title game last season. However, McIntyre did not run the ball in that game.
Did Ditka try to one-up Walsh? Said Ditka, "(Perry) carried the ball today because I just wanted to see if he could run it." He said nothing more on the matter.
Payton is 31 years old and 13,731 yards into an 11-year career, but he said today that the 23-0 loss to the 49ers last year stuck in his craw more than most games for one unsavory reason.
"After the win (the 49ers) showed no courtesy or dignity. They talked about 'Why don't you bring your offense next year?' " Payton said. "You can beat us, but there was no need to kick us when we were down. That stuck in our minds during the offseason and through training camp. It hurt. We wanted to do everything we could (today) to kick back."
Montana completed 17 of 29 passes for only 160 yards. His longest pass was 17 yards. His most versatile runner-receiver, Roger Craig, suffered a deep thigh bruise in the first quarter and was barely a factor after a great start.
One hour after the game, Montana still was in the shower, obviously taking his time to figure why his offense has gone kerplunk.
And Ditka was in the other locker room saying, with no sheriff in sight, "We beat the best today."