On the same field where the New Orleans Saints’ 2006 season came to an end, so to did their 2007 season. On a gray winter day one day shy of the New Year, the Saints fell to the Chicago Bears, 33-25.
“This was a very disappointing loss for us,” said Head Coach Sean Payton. “The things that kept us from winning, turnovers and penalties, came up today and during the season.”
“Chicago was the better team today and responded each time we got back in the game,” said Payton. “Give them credit. Nobody in this locker room feels good about 7-9. We have a lot of work to do (in the off-season) and we will get started right away.”
The Saints, who needed a win and help by Dallas and Denver in the later games, instead fell victim to three costly turnovers and the big-play skills of Devin Hester, who caught a 55-yard touchdown pass and returned a punt 64-yards for a touchdown early in the third quarter.
New Orleans received a huge day from rookie RB Pierre Thomas, who became the first Saints player to rush for over 100-yards and eclipse the 100-yard receiving mark in the same game. Thomas, with 105 yards on the ground and 121 yards on 12 receptions, racked up the third-highest yards from scrimmage total in team history (226 yards). The Saints’ team record is 237 yards, held by Deuce McAllister.
“I thought Pierre ran the ball and caught it very well today,” said Payton. “He finished a lot of runs and he played lights out.”
QB Drew Brees completed 35-of-60 passes for 320 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions, but was sacked 3 times. WR Marques Colston had 8 receptions for 94 yards in the first half, but was forced out of the game with a wrist injury suffered late in the second quarter.
The Bears took advantage of an early interception by MLB Brian Urlacher in Saints territory and took an early 3-0 lead and then extended the lead to 10-0 before the Saints could rally and close the margin to 10-7 early in the second quarter. However after the Saints closed the gap at 10-7, the Bears struck right back with a 7-play, 63-yard drive in 3:38, capped off by a 9-yard touchdown pass from QB Kyle Orton to WR Bernard Berrian.
Saints WR Marques Colston caught his second touchdown of the afternoon with just over two minutes remaining in the first half to close the Bears lead to 17-14. But Hester struck with a 55-yard reception from Orton two plays later and extended the Bears lead once again to a two-touchdown advantage (24-14).
A wacky series ended the first half, as a Brees pass was intercepted by CB Charles Tillman at the Bears goal line. Tillman attempted to return the ball, though, and was stripped of the ball by Pierre Thomas and the loose ball was recovered by Lance Moore with :02 left. K Martin Gramatica hit a 48-yard field goal as time expired and the Saints had climbed back to within a touchdown, 24-17.
The Saints took the second half kickoff but started at their own 15 yard-line and went three plays and out. P Steve Weatherford, who had kept the ball away from Hester with pinpoint sideline, instead hit a 48 yard punt down the middle of the field that was returned 64 yards for a touchdown by Hester for the score, and following Robbie Gould’s extra point, the Bears again had a two touchdown advantage (31-17).
The scoring came to a grinding halt until late in the game when the Bears forced the Saints into a holding penalty in the end zone, which resulted in a safety and upped the lead to 33-17. The Saints came back to score a late touchdown when Pierre Thomas scored on an 11-yard pass from Brees and then scored a two-point conversion on an inside handoff.
The Saints attempted an onside kick but Chicago recovered it.
Notes: Chicago won the coin toss and elected to receive … RB Pierre Thomas made his first career start ... QB Drew Brees set an NFL record for most completions in a season with his 419th completion in the second quarter, with the previous mark having been held by Rich Gannon (418 in 2002) ... the Saints were hit hard with injuries, as Marques Colston (wrist), Josh Bullocks (ankle) and Terrance Copper (concussion) all were knocked out of the game. In addition, TE Eric Johnson needed assistance from the field and didn’t return to action.