Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints are marching on into the Divisional Round. Thanks in large part to a stifling defensive effort for New Orleans along with excellent outings from Brees and Alvin Kamara, the NFC's second-seeded Saints took down the seventh-seeded Bears, 21-9, on Saturday. With the win, New Orleans will host familiar foe Tampa Bay next weekend. Top-seeded Green Bay will host No. 6 Los Angeles.
1) The New Orleans Saints' defense smothered everything Matt Nagy's crew attempted. The defensive front controlled the line, swallowing David Montgomery and Chicago's run game, and pestered Mitchell Trubisky at every turn. Meanwhile, the back end suffocated Allen Robinson, giving the Bears' QB nowhere to go with the ball. Dennis Allen's crew looked like it had Nagy's call sheet, constantly one step ahead of its opponent. The Saints gave up just 140 total yards of offense before a garbage-time, pad-stating drive by the losing squad. Until the final 99-yard scoring drive that ultimately didn't matter, New Orleans' defense allowed just six first downs on nine possessions, forced five three-and-outs, and allowed zero third-down conversions on nine tries. The opponent wasn't potent, and the final drive made the box score look a little better, but that doesn't take away the fact that the Saints' defense balled out.
2) The Bears' offense was a miserable slog, particularly in the second half, but had its chances early. Javon Wims missed a perfect deep shot early from Trubisky that should have gone for a 40-yard touchdown. It was Trubisky's best ball of the game, and Wims flat dropped it. From there, the QB looked deflated. On the same drive, he made a half-hearted effort to covert a fourth down. In what quite possibly could be his final game in a Bears jersey, Trubisky completed 10 of 19 passes for a measly 107 yards (5.6 yards per attempt) before the final drive. He ultimately ended with 199 yards and a TD. The QB looked flummoxed by the Saints' defense and got no help. Anthony Miller slamming defensive back/gnat Chauncey Gardner-Johnson in the head to get ejected in the third quarter made matters worse. Already without Darnell Mooney, the Bears had no options outside of Robinson, who was blanketed by multiple Saints on most snaps. In a year of offensive struggles, Nagy's squad ended on its worst total effort. Don't let the final drive or fun TD catch by Jimmy Graham mask the issues.
3) The Saints were fully loaded on offense for one of the few times this season. Michael Thomas returned from injured reserve and immediately made his presence felt, leading an opening-quarter TD drive with a score. Thomas (5/73/1) provided Drew Brees a go-to target and attracted the Bears' top cover corner, Kyle Fuller. With Thomas in the lineup, Deonte Harris was freed up for a career game. The shifty wideout caught seven targets for 83 yards, including a plethora of chain-movers. Alvin Kamara also returned from the reserve/COVID-19 list. It took a bit, but the running back kicked it into gear in the second half, compiling 99 rushing yards, a TD, and added two catches for 17 yards. It wasn't a prolific game for Brees, but he made enough on-target throws as the Saints controlled the clock in the second half, gobbling up 27 first downs and 385 total yards. Facing the Bucs next week, the Saints' offense will have to be crisper to get out of the Divisional Round. Sunday was a good time to get the gang back together and knock off the rust against an eight-win club that backed its way into the playoffs.
4) The Bears' defense played admirably despite missing two of its top three corners and star linebacker Roquan Smith in the middle. Chicago held Brees and Co. to just seven first-half points and kept the Bears in the game. With the offense unable to hold on to the ball in the second half, including backbreaking back-to-back three-and-outs, the unit wore down, allowing the Saints to control the game (40 minutes 4 seconds time of possession to 19:56). As with the offense, there were too many missed opportunities for the defense to make game-changing plays. Notably, Khalil Mack had Brees dead to rights for a sack that turned into a New Orleans touchdown. Chicago pays Mack a huge amount of money to be a difference-maker. Too often this year, he was quiet, including Sunday (two tackles, pass defended, zero QB hits). The defense also made some dumb mistakes, like jumping offsides on a fourth down that led to a Saints TD. Penalties negating big plays and missed tackles characterized a defense that has collapsed down the stretch after having to carry the offense for far too long.
5) The Saints handled their business -- albeit a little too close for comfort early for New Orleans fans -– setting up a third game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the Divisional Round. The NFL announced the kickoff would come Sunday at 6:40 p.m. ET. The Saints already beat Tom Brady and the division-rival Bucs twice this season. In the Week 9 matchup, New Orleans thumped Tampa, 38-3, in prime time. The defense embarrassed TB12, earning three INTs on the night. Let a week of discussions about how it's difficult to beat a team three times in one year commence. Oh, joy. ... For the Bears, Nagy will have to do some soul-searching. As might the McCaskeys. Sunday was a depressing culmination of a disappointing year for Nagy. His offense is lost. Unlike other offensive-minded coaches like Sean McVay or Kyle Shanahan, Nagy hasn't proven he can consistently scheme around his quarterback and continue to produce a functional offense. Backing into the playoffs might have given Nagy another season in which to try to work through the issues, perhaps with a different set of QBs. But after the undisciplined, unprepared, haphazard display his team put on in the postseason, the coach is sitting on a hot seat that's only getting toastier.