There seems to be no stopping these Chicago Bears. They flattened Dallas, 44-0, today in a display so overwhelming it was nearly frightening.
This was the Cowboys' worst loss in their 26-year history and only the third time they'd been held scoreless. As for the Bears, they rose majestically to 11-0 and clinched the NFC Central Division with five weeks of the regular season yet to dominate.
"You look up and see 44-0 and you have to pinch yourself," said Bears rookie kicker Kevin Butler, who had three field goals. "Then I come into the locker room, look at the guys I play with, and I realize I don't need a pinch."
The 27 other NFL teams ought to run for cover, if not for the nearest border. The Bears are even bold enough to consider a perfect 16-0 regular season.
"It's the only motivation we think about," Dan Hampton, their defensive tackle, said.
Most impressive of all, the Bears played without injured starting quarterback Jim McMahon and still hammered a team that was tied for first in the NFC East, arguably the league's toughest division, and before a crowd of 63,855 in Texas Stadium.
For Dallas (7-4), this rated worse than 41-point losses to Cleveland in 1960 and to Minnesota in 1971. "I'm not sure what went haywire," safety Dennis Thurman said.
The Chicago defense knocked Dallas quarterback Danny White momentarily unconscious in the second quarter and intercepted reserve Gary Hogeboom three times.
The Bears spent the fourth quarter breaking the dispirited Cowboys in half as running backs named Calvin Thomas and Dennis Gentry ran for 16-yard scores, pretending they were Walter Payton.
"This is pretty embarrassing," said Dallas tight end Doug Cosbie, who was left hallucinating on the bench after getting knocked woozy in the first half.
"But I don't know if this is as bad as losing to Buffalo last year, a team that hadn't won a game."
Dallas can take solace in the fact that the Bears have held eight of 11 opponents to 10 points or less. Chicago is the league's only team to have more than twice as many points scored as yielded (323 to 127), a Super Bowl-type credential. (Only the 49ers did that in 1984.)
All William (The Refrigerator) Perry did today was get penalized for trying to pick running back Payton off the ground, after he had been tackled at the Dallas two, and throw him into the end zone.
The 308-pound Perry, a defensive tackle/short-yardage specialist, was penalized for illegal use of hands.
"I thought anything goes," Perry said. Said Payton, "What could I say? He's bigger than me."
Somebody really should tell Payton to quit running around like a rookie. He rushed for 132 yards on 22 carries, including a 35-yarder late in the game. Just when you figure that Sir Walter, the NFL's all-time rushing leader, should head to the rocker on the front porch, he dashed off a 100-yard game for the 70th time in his career and his sixth straight.
Maybe the bottom line, at this point, should be a question: can anybody stop the Bears? They beat Minnesota in the Metrodome, after the Vikings' 2-0 start. Then they beat the Redskins at Soldier Field by shredding a 10-point deficit with a club-record 31-point second quarter. They breezed by San Francisco, the defending champions, in their own yard.
And today, the Bears beat Dallas so badly, Coach Tom Landry said, "This was an old-fashioned country licking . . . You just don't spot that kind of a football team 14 quick points. They just picked up momentum and eventually wore our defense down."
Chicago Coach Mike Ditka, who spent four years in Dallas as a player and nine more as an assistant coach, said, "Our defense took the football game away from them. It was just a matter of the offense mopping up. It was awesome to see."
Today's stars were Maury Buford, Otis Wilson and Steve Fuller.
Buford is the punter who angled a 36-yard punt out of bounds at the Dallas two in the first quarter. On the next play, Hampton batted a pass White threw from the end zone and defensive end Richard Dent intercepted at the one. Dent took two steps forward and the Bears led, 7-0, with 1:48 left in the quarter.
Wilson is the linebacker who was a one-man wrecking crew today. He blindsided White on a second-quarter incompletion and knocked him out.
Several minutes later, Wilson came blitzing again and forced Hogeboom to hurry his pass. Cornerback Mike Richardson intercepted and made a 36-yard return for the 17-0 touchdown.
The Chicago defense forced three turnovers in the first half, five in all. When White returned in the third quarter, guess who came on the prowl again? White was sacked by Wilson and again was left in a heap.
After lying prone for several minutes, White staggered off for X-rays (diagnosis: jammed neck, uncertain status for next week's game against Philadelphia).
Hogeboom finished with six completions in 22 attempts. The Cowboys, with the Bears frequently deploying eight defenders near the line of scrimmage, threw on 17 consecutive plays in the first half, but without production.
The Bears turned this into Blitz City. "We were not able to get rid of the ball against their 4-0 defense," said Landry. "We wanted to hit the slant patterns, but we couldn't get rid of the football soon enough."
"We had a purpose," Wilson said. "To come in here and shut them out."
Fuller completed nine of 24 for 164 yards. Nothing fancy, mind you, just effective. He made a key on-the-run 28-yard completion to tight end Tim Wrightman to spur the first touchdown drive. All of Fuller's completions were for 10 yards or more.
"Our object now," Payton said, looking at the playoffs, "is to get somebody in Soldier Field when the temperature is 15 degrees and the wind-chill factor is 20 below and see what they are made of."