The Miami Dolphins ripped the pedestal from underneath the feet of the Chicago Bears tonight.
The Dolphins, led by the quick-release passing majesty of Dan Marino, jumped to a 21-point halftime lead, then held on for a 38-24 victory over the Bears before 75,594 at the Orange Bowl.
Not only did Miami deny the Bears (12-1) a chance for a perfect season, but the Dolphins (9-4) levitated to a three-way tie for first place with New England and the New York Jets in the AFC East, while protecting their place in history. The '72 Dolphins (17-0) were the most recent team to post an unbeaten season.
"Nobody's invincible. Nobody's perfect. We're going to bounce back. It will be good for us," said Chicago Coach Mike Ditka."I only have one wish. I hope (the Dolphins) go as far as we're going to go and we'll play them again."
Miami scored four touchdowns in the first half against a team that had yielded four touchdowns in the previous seven weeks combined. Marino threw for 270 yards and three touchdowns, burning the Bears in every third-and-long situation imaginable. Marino passed for 198 yards in the first half alone, converting on third-and-18, third-and-19 and third-and-13 plays with cool, accurate passes.
The Dolphins defense, meanwhile, accumulated six quarterback sacks. Miami almost prevented Walter Payton from breaking the league record with his eighth consecutive game of 100 yards rushing or more, until, the outcome decided, a couple of carries in the closing minute boosted him from 98 yards to 121 on 23 runs.
Never mind that, "I want to win. That's the key," said Payton.
Miami linebacker Hugh Green said, "From the first day, they were supposed to be the mighty men and we were the wimps. The Refrigerator and a bunch of things. It made all of us play harder."
And when Chicago quarterback Steve Fuller limped off with a sprained ankle with 12:47 to play, the Miami defense choked off Jim McMahon. When McMahon, the former starter returning after a month out with injuries, threw a fourth-down pass into the end zone with five minutes to play, cornerback William Judson intercepted.
Marino was magical from Miami's first possession. He first rolled far to his right on third and 18 from his 36, and waited, waited, waited before going to Mark Duper for a 29-yard gain, to the Chicago 35.
It seemed like Marino's record 1984 again when, two plays later, he flicked a short pass to Nat Moore in the left flat. Moore eluded safety Gary Fencik near the 20 and sprinted on for a 33-yard touchdown play. Miami led, 7-0, with 3:52 elapsed and the Bears' string of 13 consecutive scoreless quarters was broken.
The Bears then reminded Miami that this is 1985. Just like that, Willie Gault sprinted past two defenders on a deep post pattern and caught Fuller's pass for 69 yards, to the 11. Had Fuller not underthrown, forcing Gault to break stride, it could have been an 80-yard scoring play.
No matter. Two runs by Matt Suhey brought first and goal at the one. With William (The Refrigerator) Perry lined up behind the right tackle, Fuller made a quarterback sneak for a tie at 7.
On the ensuing kickoff, Miami rookie Lorenzo Hampton made a 46-yard return. It led to Fuad Reveiz's 47-yard field goal and a 10-7 lead.
Late in the first quarter, Fuller overthrew Payton on a screen play and linebacker Bob Brudzinski intercepted at the Chicago 46. A six-yard return, coupled with a 15-yard personal foul penalty against Bears tackle Keith Van Horne, and Miami was set up at the 25.
Marino was so accurate and so quick with his release in the first half that a 10-yard holding penalty and an eight-yard loss on a sack on this drive barely mattered.
Marino, 24, just ripped a 22-yard completion to Moore on third and 18. He then hit Duper on a quick slant for 17 yards. Rookie fullback Ron Davenport slid off left guard for a yard and a 17-7 lead early in the second quarter.
The Bears hadn't faced a 10-point deficit in 10 weeks (in a game they won, 33-24, over Minnesota). Mixing runs by Payton with several short completions to tight end Emery Moorehead, the Bears made a laborious 14-play drive. But they had to settle for Kevin Butler's 30-yard field goal, closing to 17-10 with 6:40 left in the half.
After Butler's field goal, Marino solved a third-and-13 by again rolling far to his right and hitting Duper for a 52-yard completion, to the 30. Fencik and cornerback Mike Richardson lagged several yards behind Duper, who caught five passes for 105 yards in the half.
A 15-yard completion to Mark Clayton became a 29-yard gain when Clayton spun Richardson into confusion and ran 14 extra yards, to the one. Davenport scored again and the lead was 24-10 with 1:57 left in the half.
The Orange Bowl rocked. The Miami confidence soared so much that when Fuller was sacked by Brudzinski for a six-yard loss, to the Chicago 14, on first down, Miami called a timeout, and moments later another one.
Shrewd. Chicago had to punt and Judson slid right up the middle, past center Jay Hilgenberg, and blocked Maury Buford's kick. Miami recovered at the six with 1:28 left.
On second down, Marino passed to Moore for a six-yard scoring play. Miami led, 31-10. There was still 1:17 until intermission. The football world was in shock.
Pregame, you would have figured the Orange Bowl the perfect spot for an ambush of the Bears. Since Don Shula became Dolphins' coach in 1970, the home field has been more than an advantage. It has been nearly a guarantee. Miami came in with a 94-18-1 (.831) record here since '70. Now the 1985 Dolphins are 6-0 at home.
The Bears, who have already clinched the NFC Central Division title as well as the home-field advantage throughout the conference playoffs, fought hard to revive from the 31-10 halftime deficit.
Cornerback Leslie Frazier intercepted Marino's first pass in the third quarter at the Miami 43. But several plays later, Fuller overthrew Payton and safety Glenn Blackwood intercepted on the 10.
Once again, though, the Bears defense forced a quick turnover. Clayton made a catch over the middle and was stripped of the ball by cornerback Mike Richardson. Defensive end Richard Dent recovered and made a short return to the Miami 27.
Fuller capitalized this time. He finished a quick drive with a one-yard sneak and the Bears were within two touchdowns, 31-17.
Chicago then tried an onside kick, but Miami recovered at the Chicago 46. You got the feeling someone well beyond the moon over Miami was looking after the Dolphins when, two plays later, defensive tackle Dan Hampton deflected a Marino pass that somehow floated forward 21 yards, over the head of cornerback Richardson, and into the arms of Clayton, at the 21.
Clayton sprinted by his lonesome into the end zone, finishing a 42-yard play. Miami led, 38-17, with 8:33 to go in the third quarter.
"We beat the best team in the NFL," said Marino. "It will give us a lift.