Happy trails: Bears rumble past Vikings

January 02, 1995|By Fred Mitchell | Fred Mitchell,Chicago Tribune

MINNEAPOLIS -- Road 'dogs.

The Chicago Bears love that role. Send them on the road, tell them they have no chance to win. Push them to the brink of extinction. And then watch them respond.

They were underdogs at Miami in November and knocked off the AFC East champions. They were decided underdogs again in yesterday's NFC wild-card game, but emerged with a 35-18 victory at the Metrodome.

"For some reason, we seem to play better on the road," said veteran defensive back Maurice Douglass.

This young Bears team is going places. And not simply to San Francisco for Saturday's playoff game against the 49ers, who are favored by 16 points.

Yesterday's improbable victory probably will mean more to this club in the next year or two than it will in this postseason.

It was the Bears' first playoff victory since Jan. 6, 1990, and their first road playoff win since Dec. 30, 1984.

Saturday's sojourn to Candlestick Park to face the 49ers, the most successful team in the NFL this season (13-3), figures to be the end of the road for these Bears.

But then again . . .

Coach Dave Wannstedt has this 10-7 team believing it can leap tall odds in a single bound.

After losing twice to the Vikings during the regular season by an aggregate score of 75-41, the Bears thrashed the NFC Central champions in front of 60,347 fans.

"They are a good team and they have really been a thorn in our sides," said Bears linebacker Joe Cain. "Today was the best time to beat them. A playoff game and against a division opponent who we hadn't beat yet. So we get two birds with one stone."

Vikings quarterback Warren Moon, who missed last Monday night's game against San Francisco because of a sprained knee, was out of sync with his record-breaking wide receivers, Cris Carter and Jake Reed.

"I was prepared enough to play in the game after the injury," said Moon. "But I got into a game where I had to throw, throw, throw. That's not the game that I needed to be in after what I was coming off of."

Meanwhile, Bears quarterback Steve Walsh, playing his best game in a month, completed 15 of 23 attempts for 221 yards and two touchdowns. He improved his record as a Bears starter to 9-3.

Though the Vikings controlled the ball 34 minutes, 39 seconds, the Bears won the turnover battle, 4-2.

"Someone had thrown out the stat that the last 31 games in the playoffs, the team that won the turnover battle won the game [now 33 straight]," said Wannstedt. "I didn't know if it was true, but I threw it out for the players before the game."

The way the game began, it did not look like turnovers would go in favor of the Bears, who turned it over on their first two possessions.

Lewis Tillman fumbled with 9:21 to go in the first period and the Vikings' Henry Thomas recovered at the Bears' 6. A holding penalty on Minnesota lineman Randall McDaniel nullified a Vikings touchdown. Finally, Minnesota had to settle for a 29-yard field goal by Fuad Reveiz.

On the Bears' next possession, Walsh's pass over the middle hit the back of the helmet of Bears lineman Jay Leeuwenburg. Anthony Parker intercepted and returned it 10 yards to the Bears' 39. Once again, the Vikings self-destructed with a holding penalty on tackle Chris Hinton. After an incompletion by Moon, Trace Armstrong beat Hinton on a third-down play and wrestled Moon to the turf, forcing the Vikings to punt.

The Bears took the lead for good with 1:46 left in the second period when Tillman ran in from the 1.

Robert Smith returned Kevin Butler's ensuing kickoff 58 yards. From the Bears' 33, the Vikings again came up empty. Moon's pass intended for Qadry Ismail bounced off the receiver's hands and into the grasp of Bears linebacker Barry Minter.

The Bears took advantage of their take-away. Walsh passed 52 yards to Jeff Graham, who stutter-stepped, weaved and sprinted HTC the Vikings' 14. Three plays later, Walsh rolled out on a bootleg and zeroed in on tight end Keith Jennings for a 9-yard scoring pass.

The Vikings finally came to life late in the second period. A 38-yard pass and run from Moon to running back Amp Lee netted 38 yards to the Bears' 8. On third down from the 4, Moon delivered a touchdown pass to Carter with 19 seconds left until intermission. A two-point conversion pass failed and the Bears led 14-9 at the half.

Mindful of numerous second-half collapses at the Metrodome, the Bears came out dealing in the third quarter, marching 75 yards in four plays. Rookie fullback Raymont Harris broke tackle attempts by Jack Del Rio and Vencie Glenn before sprinting into the end zone to give the Bears a 21-9 lead.

On its next possession, Minnesota got a 48-yard field goal from Reveiz, but the Bears countered with a 21-yard scoring pass from Walsh to Graham to make it 28-12.

The Vikings stayed within striking distance on a 10-yard touchdown pass from Moon to Lee with 5:36 to go in the game, but a two-point conversion attempt again failed and the Bears led 28-18.

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