"Cutbacks, Riggins was killing us on cutbacks," Chicago middle linebacker Mike Singletary said. "We were ready for straight stuff, and he kept breaking it back. Then we adjusted."
Riggins carried 18 times after that opening triple. His longest gains were a trio of fours. The Bears were homing in on him. Those 18 carries produced only 32 yards, but maybe in the fourth period, with the Chicago defense tiring, it was time for the Redskins to come back with the big guy and pound the Bears, instead of trying to do it all with Theismann's arm. Dan Hampton, Chicago's All-Pro defensive tackle and a double-sacker of Theismann, thought so. "We weren't trying to just make Theismann hurry his passes," he said. "He'll stay in the pocket and take the hit; he's got a lot of guts. We all know that. We had to get him on the ground, one, two, three, four times. Then he'd start thinking about the rush. Someone said he looked rattled late in the game. Well, I'd be plumb rattled, too, if I was on the ground with 300 pounds on me. Nope, once we got into the flow of the game and got Riggins out of it, and they had to go to Theismann, that's what won the game for us."
The Bears' secondary was an inviting late-game target. Right cornerback Terry Schmidt, who started only because Leslie Frazier and Shaun Gayle were banged up, went down with a thigh injury late in the third quarter. His place had to be taken by Frazier, playing on a bad foot. That experiment lasted six plays, until Clint Didier, the Skins' 6'5" second tight end, caught a 26-yarder over Frazier, down to the two-yard line, setting up the final Washington TD. Then Frazier got the hook and Todd Bell, the Chicago strong safety, shifted over to the corner, and Dave Duerson, a nickel back, took Bell's spot. The Bears defense, cooked up by defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan, is a cerebral thing, but now it had two guys playing out of position. Naturally there were mix-ups and a few mess-ups, but the miscues were covered up by the sacks.
Richard Dent, the Bears' lightning-quick 253-pound right end, collected two of his total of three sacks in the fourth quarter—plus a hurry, plus a deflected ball when he dropped back into coverage. Hampton got his two sacks, Steve McMichael, the highly underrated left tackle, got one, and so did end Henry Waechter, who was cut by Chicago in '83 and the Colts this season and finally was picked up again by the Bears when Mike Hartenstine got hurt in December. Ryan's system, which features an unusual alignment that sets two tackles and an end on the center and guards, man-to-man, breeds sacks. The Bears' 72 in the regular season set an NFL record.
A Redskin injury—right guard Ken Huff broke an ankle in the first period and in came Mo Towns, a Houston and Raider reject who had been activated the day before the game—created more difficulties for Washington. And what Gibbs feared most came to pass. Sacks.
All week, sacks had been a big topic of conversation around Redskin Park. Why had Washington been allowing so many? In those last two games, the Cowboys and Cards had dusted Theismann 14 times. Two of the five interior offensive linemen, the famous Hogs who started the last Super Bowl, were lost with injuries. And now the sackers and pillagers from Chicago were coming to town.
Gibbs' answer was something so secret that he closed practice for the first time in four years. He installed the shotgun. He'd never coached it. He didn't much like it. But he had to do something to keep his quarterback away from the snapping jaws. "A lot of the blitz sacks were in the two-yard area, near the line," Gibbs said. "I had to get Joe away from there. He loved it. He's been on my case about going to the shotgun for years."
"You won't have to look at the scoreboard to know if we're in trouble," Theismann said before the game. "If I'm leading in rushing, we're in trouble." At halftime Theismann wasn't leading, but the scrambling he'd been forced to do left him only two yards behind Riggins, 37 yards to 35. And the Skins were in trouble. They trailed 10-3, but even so they'd been doing the driving. They'd driven and scored, driven and fumbled, and driven deep again just before the half, only to get sacked out of field-goal range. The Bears had gotten a field goal after a fumble recovery and a TD on a pass, Walter Payton to tight end Pat Dunsmore, when the Skins had totally blown the coverage. "It scares you to see a guy that wide open," Payton said. "You're thinking, 'Don't overthrow it, don't underthrow it.' "
Chicago's third-quarter scores also came in unorthodox fashion. Wide receiver Willie Gault broke cornerback Darrell Green's tackle and turned a 10-yard out-pattern into a 75-yard TD. Then a roughing-the-punter penalty kept alive the Bears' second touchdown drive of the period. But as the final quarter opened they were backed up deep, reduced to running their three-play-and-punt offense and to asking the defense to keep the door slammed.
"I watched our defense like a parent watching his child on a bicycle for the first time," Payton would say. "Every time he wobbles a little bit, you wobble with him."