Totally '80s: San Francisco, Chicago meet in pivotal game

Posted: Friday, October 26, 2001

The last time the 49ers played the Bears in a game of major magnitude was Jan. 8, 1989 for the NFC championship, when Mike Ditka waited until the last minute to choose Jim McMahon over Mike Tomczak as Chicago's starting quarterback.

Didn't matter.

San Francisco won 28-3 and went on to win the third of its five Super Bowls. The Bears, with one of the best defenses ever, began fading, finally resurfacing this season with four wins in their first five games and the lead in the NFC Central.

This year's Bears, who will take on the 4-1 49ers at Soldier Field on Sunday, are doing it the same way the old Bears did -- with defense, led by second-year linebacker Brian Urlacher, the Mike Singletary/Dick Butkus of this millenium. They even have the modern version of William Perry, 350-pound Ted Washington, to plug the middle.

''Guys on this team believe we can dominate people,'' says Jim Miller, the McMahon-type quarterback who does little but win. ''It's a whole new frame of mind.''

San Francisco, also 4-1, comes at opponents with offense.

If Jeff Garcia isn't yet Joe Montana or Steve Young, he's a reasonable facsimile in a league short on talent at quarterback. So after two rebuilding seasons, the 49ers have two of their wins in overtime over Atlanta and scared St. Louis before losing.

In this day and age, it's not incongruous these teams have combined for 8-2 starts after going a combined 11-21 in 2000.

''That's the NFL now,'' 49ers coach Steve Mariucci says. ''Don't we say that every year now? It's just crazy. It's hard to pick winners from week to week, which means the margin for error in every game is very small.''

Tennessee (2-3) at Pittsburgh (4-1) (Monday night)

This figures to be the third straight low-scoring Monday night game.

The Titans have won two straight, but they're not the Titans thought to be headed to the Super Bowl . They got every break in Detroit last week or they'd have lost to the NFL's only remaining winless team.

''We're a long way from where we all would like to be,'' acknowledges coach Jeff Fisher, whose team has won seven straight from Pittsburgh.

The Steelers are winning as they have in the past. Jerome Bettis is third in the NFL in rushing, the defense has allowed the second-fewest yards and had 10 sacks last week in Tampa, four by Joey Porter and three by Kimo von Oelhoffen, who until that game had six in a seven-year career.

But Kordell Stewart has just one TD pass in five games.

''I like to think our best football is ahead of us,'' says coach Bill Cowher.

New Orleans (3-2) at St. Louis (6-0)

Jim Haslett and Mike Martz are not best friends and Martz has been testy recently because of innuendoes that the NFL's last unbeaten team is ''soft.'' Then there's the fact the Saints won the NFC West title last season and knocked the Rams from the playoffs.

Haslett is putting last week's home loss to Atlanta in perspective.

''I told the team this: In the offseason, the media builds you up so much and expectations are so high that when something goes wrong, it's like the world is falling apart,'' Haslett says. ''In essence it's not.''

Oakland (4-1) at Philadelphia (3-2)

The Raiders are coming off a bye while the Eagles have a short week after an emotional come-from-behind win over the Giants, who had beaten them nine straight times.

But Donovan McNabb might have learned something. As in their near-win against St. Louis, the Eagles started moving the ball against New York when he left the pocket, not when he stayed in it.

Buffalo (1-4) at San Diego (4-2)

Buffalo East at Buffalo West.

The Chargers' turnaround has been orchestrated by John Butler, the Bills' former GM, and the front-office people he brought with him. On the field, it's led by Doug Flutie and Marcellus Wiley. Former Buffalo linebackers Sam Rogers and John Holocek are also on hand.

The Bills aren't exactly geared for a family reunion. A lot of people in Buffalo blame Butler for the salary cap woes that have led to this season's decline. And Rob Johnson, who was kept instead of Flutie, isn't having the season his erstwhile competitor is having.

Jacksonville (2-3) at Baltimore (3-3)

Much has been made of the Ravens' injuries and slow start. What about the Jaguars? ''I think we're better than we're playing,'' Tom Coughlin said after the Jaguars lost last Thursday to the previously winless Bills. Injuries to the likes of Tony Boselli and Fred Taylor don't help.

Baltimore's defense has regressed, allowing 55 points in its last two games after giving up 165 all last season. That's why there aren't many repeat Super Bowl winners.

Minnesota (3-3)

at Tampa Bay (2-3)

It's not really a surprise the Vikings are 3-3 -- all three of their wins are at home, including a 20-16 decision over the Bucs.

Tampa Bay's offense is as stodgy as always and it allowed 10 sacks in last week's 17-10 loss to the Steelers. But the defense isn't doing what it's supposed to either, ranked 21st against the run. It allowed Jerome Bettis 143 yards in just 17 carries last week.

Key stat: The Bucs have just eight sacks in five games and Warren Sapp has only one.

New England (3-3) at Denver (3-3)

The Broncos have lost three of four, the Patriots have won three of four, and Brian Griese finds himself facing the man who succeeded him at quarterback at Michigan. Tom Brady has thrown for five touchdowns and no interceptions in four starts for the injured Drew Bledsoe.

After Denver's loss in San Diego last week, Mike Shanahan declared his team ''mediocre.'' The Broncos haven't been very good since beating the Giants in the opener, when they lost star receiver Ed McCaffrey. His absence and Griese's sore shoulder are problems that won't go away.

Miami (3-2) at Seattle (3-2)

Both teams had last week off, and Trent Dilfer's groin pull gives Mike Holmgren the excuse to put Matt Hasselbeck (1-2 as the starter) back at quarterback after two straight victories with Dilfer. Groin pulls seem contagious -- that's why Hasselbeck missed those two games.

Miami's problem is clear from two stats: Lamar Smith has lost three fumbles in two games and Jay Fiedler has thrown seven interceptions in his past four.

New York Giants (3-3)

at Washington (1-5)

The first of three straight games in which the Giants will be heavy favorites (home for Dallas and at Arizona after this). That doesn't mean they'll win all of them, but they usually respond well to Jim Fassel's anger.

New York beat Washington in the Meadowlands three weeks ago, a plodding -- what else is new? -- 23-9 victory. Michael Strahan, who has 10 1/2 sacks in his last four games, was ''limited'' to just 1 1/2 in that game, a victory for Jon Jansen, the Skins' right tackle.

New York Jets (3-3)

at Carolina (1-5)

The Jets are still angry at Mike Martz for trying an onside kick with the Rams ahead 31-7 late in the third quarter last week. Better they turn their attention to the Panthers, who have lost five straight, including a 17-14 overtime defeat in Washington last week after holding a 14-0 lead in the fourth quarter.

New York's problem is stopping the run. But Carolina doesn't have much running -- it lost Tshimanga Biakabutuka late last week after he gained 121 yards against the Redskins.

Arizona (2-3) at Dallas (1-4)

Is it possible the Cardinals are better than anyone thought? There's not much talent on defense, but Jake Plummer is playing better and Dave McGinnis has his team playing hard.

Dallas celebrated its victory over Washington as if it were the Super Bowl. Anthony Wright has been better than Quincy Carter at quarterback, but Jerry Jones is getting Ryan Leaf ready for action against the Falcons on Nov. 11.

Cincinnati (3-3) at Detroit (0-5)

The Bengals looked like the old Bungles in losing 24-0 at home to Chicago last week. The Lions actually outplayed Tennessee, but lost because the Titans made a few big plays, most of all a blocked field goal attempt returned for a touchdown by Donald Mitchell.

''It's not just one thing,'' says Matt Millen, still looking for his first win as the Lions' president. ''It's never one thing. We seem to invent things along the way.''

CREDIT:AP Photo/Al Behrman

CAPTION:Chicago Bears running back Anthony Thomas scores on a 23-yard run against the Cincinnati Bengals Oct. 21 in Cincinnati. The Bears (4-1) will play the San Francisco 49ers (4-1) Sunday in Chicago.

HEAD:Totally '80s: San Francisco, Chicago meet in pivotal game

BYLINE1:By DAVE GOLDBERG

BYLINE2:AP Football Writer

The last time the 49ers played the Bears in a game of major magnitude was Jan. 8, 1989 for the NFC championship, when Mike Ditka waited until the last minute to choose Jim McMahon over Mike Tomczak as Chicago's starting quarterback.

Didn't matter.

San Francisco won 28-3 and went on to win the third of its five Super Bowls. The Bears, with one of the best defenses ever, began fading, finally resurfacing this season with four wins in their first five games and the lead in the NFC Central.

This year's Bears, who will take on the 4-1 49ers at Soldier Field on Sunday, are doing it the same way the old Bears did -- with defense, led by second-year linebacker Brian Urlacher, the Mike Singletary/Dick Butkus of this millenium. They even have the modern version of William Perry, 350-pound Ted Washington, to plug the middle.

''Guys on this team believe we can dominate people,'' says Jim Miller, the McMahon-type quarterback who does little but win. ''It's a whole new frame of mind.''

San Francisco, also 4-1, comes at opponents with offense.

If Jeff Garcia isn't yet Joe Montana or Steve Young, he's a reasonable facsimile in a league short on talent at quarterback. So after two rebuilding seasons, the 49ers have two of their wins in overtime over Atlanta and scared St. Louis before losing.

In this day and age, it's not incongruous these teams have combined for 8-2 starts after going a combined 11-21 in 2000.

''That's the NFL now,'' 49ers coach Steve Mariucci says. ''Don't we say that every year now? It's just crazy. It's hard to pick winners from week to week, which means the margin for error in every game is very small.''

Tennessee (2-3) at Pittsburgh (4-1) (Monday night)

This figures to be the third straight low-scoring Monday night game.

The Titans have won two straight, but they're not the Titans thought to be headed to the Super Bowl . They got every break in Detroit last week or they'd have lost to the NFL's only remaining winless team.

''We're a long way from where we all would like to be,'' acknowledges coach Jeff Fisher, whose team has won seven straight from Pittsburgh.

The Steelers are winning as they have in the past. Jerome Bettis is third in the NFL in rushing, the defense has allowed the second-fewest yards and had 10 sacks last week in Tampa, four by Joey Porter and three by Kimo von Oelhoffen, who until that game had six in a seven-year career.

But Kordell Stewart has just one TD pass in five games.

''I like to think our best football is ahead of us,'' says coach Bill Cowher.

New Orleans (3-2) at St. Louis (6-0)

Jim Haslett and Mike Martz are not best friends and Martz has been testy recently because of innuendoes that the NFL's last unbeaten team is ''soft.'' Then there's the fact the Saints won the NFC West title last season and knocked the Rams from the playoffs.

Haslett is putting last week's home loss to Atlanta in perspective.

''I told the team this: In the offseason, the media builds you up so much and expectations are so high that when something goes wrong, it's like the world is falling apart,'' Haslett says. ''In essence it's not.''

Oakland (4-1) at Philadelphia (3-2)

The Raiders are coming off a bye while the Eagles have a short week after an emotional come-from-behind win over the Giants, who had beaten them nine straight times.

But Donovan McNabb might have learned something. As in their near-win against St. Louis, the Eagles started moving the ball against New York when he left the pocket, not when he stayed in it.

Buffalo (1-4) at San Diego (4-2)

Buffalo East at Buffalo West.

The Chargers' turnaround has been orchestrated by John Butler, the Bills' former GM, and the front-office people he brought with him. On the field, it's led by Doug Flutie and Marcellus Wiley. Former Buffalo linebackers Sam Rogers and John Holocek are also on hand.

The Bills aren't exactly geared for a family reunion. A lot of people in Buffalo blame Butler for the salary cap woes that have led to this season's decline. And Rob Johnson, who was kept instead of Flutie, isn't having the season his erstwhile competitor is having.

Jacksonville (2-3) at Baltimore (3-3)

Much has been made of the Ravens' injuries and slow start. What about the Jaguars? ''I think we're better than we're playing,'' Tom Coughlin said after the Jaguars lost last Thursday to the previously winless Bills. Injuries to the likes of Tony Boselli and Fred Taylor don't help.

Baltimore's defense has regressed, allowing 55 points in its last two games after giving up 165 all last season. That's why there aren't many repeat Super Bowl winners.

Minnesota (3-3)

at Tampa Bay (2-3)

It's not really a surprise the Vikings are 3-3 -- all three of their wins are at home, including a 20-16 decision over the Bucs.

Tampa Bay's offense is as stodgy as always and it allowed 10 sacks in last week's 17-10 loss to the Steelers. But the defense isn't doing what it's supposed to either, ranked 21st against the run. It allowed Jerome Bettis 143 yards in just 17 carries last week.

Key stat: The Bucs have just eight sacks in five games and Warren Sapp has only one.

New England (3-3) at Denver (3-3)

The Broncos have lost three of four, the Patriots have won three of four, and Brian Griese finds himself facing the man who succeeded him at quarterback at Michigan. Tom Brady has thrown for five touchdowns and no interceptions in four starts for the injured Drew Bledsoe.

After Denver's loss in San Diego last week, Mike Shanahan declared his team ''mediocre.'' The Broncos haven't been very good since beating the Giants in the opener, when they lost star receiver Ed McCaffrey. His absence and Griese's sore shoulder are problems that won't go away.

Miami (3-2) at Seattle (3-2)

Both teams had last week off, and Trent Dilfer's groin pull gives Mike Holmgren the excuse to put Matt Hasselbeck (1-2 as the starter) back at quarterback after two straight victories with Dilfer. Groin pulls seem contagious -- that's why Hasselbeck missed those two games.

Miami's problem is clear from two stats: Lamar Smith has lost three fumbles in two games and Jay Fiedler has thrown seven interceptions in his past four.

New York Giants (3-3)

at Washington (1-5)

The first of three straight games in which the Giants will be heavy favorites (home for Dallas and at Arizona after this). That doesn't mean they'll win all of them, but they usually respond well to Jim Fassel's anger.

New York beat Washington in the Meadowlands three weeks ago, a plodding -- what else is new? -- 23-9 victory. Michael Strahan, who has 10 1/2 sacks in his last four games, was ''limited'' to just 1 1/2 in that game, a victory for Jon Jansen, the Skins' right tackle.

New York Jets (3-3)

at Carolina (1-5)

The Jets are still angry at Mike Martz for trying an onside kick with the Rams ahead 31-7 late in the third quarter last week. Better they turn their attention to the Panthers, who have lost five straight, including a 17-14 overtime defeat in Washington last week after holding a 14-0 lead in the fourth quarter.

New York's problem is stopping the run. But Carolina doesn't have much running -- it lost Tshimanga Biakabutuka late last week after he gained 121 yards against the Redskins.

Arizona (2-3) at Dallas (1-4)

Is it possible the Cardinals are better than anyone thought? There's not much talent on defense, but Jake Plummer is playing better and Dave McGinnis has his team playing hard.

Dallas celebrated its victory over Washington as if it were the Super Bowl. Anthony Wright has been better than Quincy Carter at quarterback, but Jerry Jones is getting Ryan Leaf ready for action against the Falcons on Nov. 11.

Cincinnati (3-3) at Detroit (0-5)

The Bengals looked like the old Bungles in losing 24-0 at home to Chicago last week. The Lions actually outplayed Tennessee, but lost because the Titans made a few big plays, most of all a blocked field goal attempt returned for a touchdown by Donald Mitchell.

''It's not just one thing,'' says Matt Millen, still looking for his first win as the Lions' president. ''It's never one thing. We seem to invent things along the way.''



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