The Green Bay Packers got a field goal from Jan Stenerud on the final play of the game to beat the Chicago Bears 31-28 and keep their playoff hopes alive. Bart Starr’s team led by 14 points with six minutes left in the game, but the Bears were able to tie it with two late touchdowns. Lynn Dickey threw for 345 yards and a touchdown while Gerry Ellis ran for 141 yards and a score. James Lofton caught six passes for 120 yards for Green Bay.
The Packers Retired a Memorable Jersey Before the Game
It was a memorable day before the game even started. In a pregame ceremony, the Packers retired Ray Nitschke’s number 66. “I never did like to see anyone else wear it,” Nitschke said. Since the Hall of Fame middle linebacker retired in 1973, only two players wore number 66. Linebacker Paul Rudzinski wore it in 1978 and nose tackle Mike Lewis played 10 games in number 66 in 1980.
The Packers entered the game with a 6-7 record and needed to win their final three games to have a chance to make the playoffs. They had lost their last two games in overtime and faced a must-win situation against the Bears. The Bears were also 6-7 entering this game with Detroit and Minnesota both at 7-6 in a four-team race in the NFC Central.
The Packers Jumped Out to a Quick Lead
The Packers jumped out to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter. Running back Harlan Huckleby scored on a nine-yard touchdown run to open the scoring. Then, Dickey found tight end Paul Coffman on a five-yard scoring pass to extend the lead.
The Bears answered later in the first quarter. Quarterback Jim McMahon threw an 87-yard bomb to speedster Willie Gault to get the Bears on the board and cut the Packers lead to 14-7.
The teams traded rushing touchdowns in the second quarter. Ellis scored on a 12-yard run for the Packers, but fullback Matt Suhey scored on a one-yard run and the Packers lead was 21-14 at the half.
The Second Half Had Big Play Drama Leading Up to the Final Minute
After a scoreless third quarter, the Packers extended their lead to 28-14 when Huckleby scored his second touchdown of the game on a 10-yard run.
But the Packers got too cute with a 14-point lead and 5:30 left in the game. Offensive coordinator Bob Schnelker called a halfback option and Ellis’ pass was intercepted by Leslie Frazier of Chicago. That set up Suhey’s second one-yard touchdown run and cut the Packers lead to 28-21.
Then, the Bears tied the game when Dennis McKinnon returned a Bucky Scribner punt 59 yards for a touchdown with just 1:50 left in the fourth quarter. The Packers were fearing a third straight overtime game when their offense got the ball back.
Stenerud Wins It for the Packers On the Final Play
The big play was a 67-yard bomb to Lofton that put the Packers in field goal range. “It was a corner route,” Lofton said after the game. “I was being covered by Terry Schmidt and Mike Richardson. I made a move on Terry to the inside and broke outside. The field was pretty mushy. It was hard to react to quick moves.”
“I made a mistake,” Schmidt admitted. “I was going for an interception and the ball carried over my head.”
The long throw gave Dickey a season total of 3,928 yards which was a new record for an NFC quarterback. Roger Staubach held the previous record when he threw for 3,586 in 1979.
Stenerud booted a 19-yard field goal on the final play of the game to give the Packers the win. He had missed two kicks earlier in the game but made this one to give the Pack the win. The field goal put him one behind George Blanda on the NFL’s all-time career list. He had already missed two field goals earlier in the game.
“I was thinking after my first miss that it would have helped my total, which is an awful thing to think,” Stenerud told reporters. “The 19-yarder is one I should make 99 percent of the time. I’m glad I helped win the game, but I would prefer a 50-0 game if we win. We’re still alive, that’s what counts. It wasn’t the ideal way to win, but we can’t be choosers the way we’ve been going.”
Starr had praise for his team’s resilience in this win. “I’m extremely proud of this football team for the way they responded to two heartbreaking losses the last two weeks,” Starr said. “We stared at another one today, but we refused to let them have it.”
The two teams met again in the season finale two weeks later. The Bears kicked a last second field goal in that game to beat the Packers 23-21 to end the Packers playoff chances. Bart Starr was fired as coach a few days later.
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