Craig: We're seeing shades of '85 Bears this season

  • Article by: MARK CRAIG , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 17, 2012 - 11:47 PM

Just hear this out: The game-changing Chicago defense of 2012 might be as good as Buddy Ryan's old bunch.

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Chicago Bears cornerback Charles Tillman (33), outside linebacker Lance Briggs (55) and middle linebacker Brian Urlacher (54).

Photo: Phelan M. Ebenhack, Associated Press

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It was Sept. 8, 1985, and the Chicago Bears had just given up 28 points in the first half of their first game of the season.

They trailed Tampa Bay 28-17 at home when a cornerback named Leslie Frazier changed the momentum of the game, and perhaps an entire season.

Frazier intercepted Steve DeBerg, who had been having his way with the Bears defense, throwing three first-half touchdown passes. Frazier went 29 yards the other way, scoring a touchdown as the Bears rallied for their first of 12 consecutive wins.

Those who remember the Bears team that went 15-1 en route to winning Super Bowl XX probably forgot that Buddy Ryan's defense gave up four touchdowns in its first two quarters of the season. That's because most of us consider that defense the best we've seen in our lifetimes.

It's also hard for us to fathom that this year's Bears defense might be even better than the 1985 version. That's something that Frazier, now the Vikings' head coach, and his staff, which includes former teammate and Hall of Famer Mike Singletary, get to face twice over the next three weeks.

It feels strange comparing any defense to the 1985 Bears, particularly before season's end. After all, Buddy's boys finished things off by shutting out the Giants (21-0) and Rams (24-0) before blasting the Patriots 46-10 in the Super Bowl.

However, through nine games ... well, you be the judge.

• Points allowed: 1985: 124. 2012: 133.

• Touchdowns allowed: 1985: 14 (11 passing, three rushing). 2012: 10 (eight receiving, two rushing).

• Average yards allowed: 1985: 298.6. 2012: 305.6.

• Takeaways: 1985: 30 (22 interceptions, eight fumbles). 2012: 30 (19 interceptions, 11 fumbles).

• Points scored: 1985: 16. 2012: 48.

The 1985 Bears had two interception returns for touchdowns and two safeties through nine games. This year's Bears have eight touchdowns. Eight. Heck, they have almost as many interception returns for touchdowns (seven) as passing touchdowns allowed (eight).

Only four cornerbacks have won Associated Press NFL Defensive Player of the Year since the award was created in 1971. This year, the Bears have two corners -- Tim Jennings and Charles Tillman -- among the front-runners for the honor.

From 2006 to 2009, Jennings played 53 games for the Colts. He intercepted four passes. Since joining the Bears in 2010, he has 13 picks, including eight in nine games this season. He returned one of those for a touchdown while winning NFL Defensive Player of the Month in September.

Tillman has two picks and two touchdowns but isn't known for interceptions or scoring touchdowns. His uncanny ability to strip the ball -- which he's done seven times this season -- is what powered him to winning NFL Defensive Player of the Month for October.

Meanwhile, playing the modern-day linebacker roles of Singletary and Otis Wilson are Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs. Briggs has scored twice, Urlacher once.

Playing the role of five-time All-Pro right end Richard Dent is five-time All-Pro Julius Peppers. Dent had 137 1/2 sacks in 15 seasons. Nine games into his 11th season, Peppers has 106 sacks, including six this year.

Is it too early to say this year's defense will be as good if not better than the Bears' 1985 version? Yes.

Is it too early to start thinking about the possibility? Absolutely not.

In other words, heads up, Leslie. In 1985, your Bears had 10 takeaways -- including eight interceptions -- in two games against the Vikings.

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