December 11, 2008

Saints Rally To Overtime But Defense Cannot Cash In

Hester haunts dreams of Jason David, Roman Harper as Brees overcomes struggles in 27-24 loss
courtesy neworleanssaints.com

The New Orleans Saints, playing in their first overtime game since November 16, 2003, fell to the Chicago Bears, 27-24, at Soldier Field on a Robbie Gould 35-yard field goal with 12:14 left in overtime. With the loss the Saints dropped to 7-7 while Chicago improved to 8-6.

The Saints had fought back from a 21-7 halftime deficit to take a 24-21 lead with 3:05 left in the game but a Chicago offensive drive ended regulation play with a 28-yard field goal by Gould that tied the game at 24-24.

Chicago owned a decided advantage in the kicking return game, out-gaining the Saints 192 yards to 63.

“I was proud of the way we fought back,” said a disappointed Head Coach Sean Payton after the game. “But when there is a 129-yard difference in the kicking return game in favor of the other team and you struggle defensively on third downs, that’s what happens and why we are at .500.”

Saints QB Drew Brees had connected with Marques Colston on an 11-yard touchdown pass with just over three minutes to play to give the Saints a 24-21, which marked the team’s first lead of the evening, but the lead was short-lived.

New Orleans out-gained Chicago in total yards, 345 to 226, and held the ball for 36:32 in time of possession to the Bears’ 26:14. The Saints’ three defensive takeaways, which included two interception, was not enough to stop the Saints from dropping their third game in as many years at Soldier Field.

Saints QB Drew Brees completed 24-of-43 passes on the night for 232 yards with two touchdowns and one interception for a passer rating of 67.2 Bears QB Kyle Orton, meanwhile, was 24-of-40 for 172 yards with two interceptions for a rating of 49.2.

RB Pierre Thomas had 22 carries for 87 yards and added seven receptions for 59 yards in the defeat.

The game got off to a rocky start for the Saints when Bears CB Danieal Manning returned the opening kickoff of the game 83 yards for a touchdown to stake the Bears to a 7-0 lead after only: 12. It was the first kickoff returned for a touchdown against the Saints this season and the first since Maurice Jones-Drew accomplished the feat last season when the Saints defeated the Jacksonville Jaguars at the Superdome.

Earlier the Saints had won the coin toss and elected to defer receiving the football until the beginning of second half of the game.

New Orleans began their first drive at their own 17 yard-line and quickly moved into Chicago territory after just four plays. The Saints alternated between the run and the pass on the first six plays but were confronted with a third-and-six at the Bears’ 45 with 11:32 remaining in the first quarter but a Bears sack was nullified by a holding call on CB Corey Graham, who held TE Billy Miller and resulted in the Saints’ being awarded five yards and an automatic first down. Two consecutive incompletions by Brees brought up a third down and ten from the Chicago 40, but Brees’s pass over the middle of the field intended for Lance Moore was intercepted by Bears S Mike Brown at the Chicago 23.

Former Tulane star running back Matt Forte took his first handoff of the night and was stopped by DE Will Smith for no gain. QB Kyle Orton then hit a short pass for eight yards to WR Devin Hester and on third down RB Adrian Peterson tried the middle of the Saints’ line but was stopped for a gain of only one yard by NT Kendrick Clancy. P Brad Maynard hit a 53-yard punt to Reggie Bush, who slipped attempting to make a move on WR Rashied Davis at the New Orleans 15.

The Saints then went three-and-out on their second series of the game but received a 54-yard punt from Glenn Pakulak and top special teams coverage from Roman Harper who tackled Hester for a seven-yard loss and the Bears were penalized for an illegal block in the back and the Bears started at their own nine yard-line. Forte, who appeared to be injured on his first carry of the game, headed to the locker room for an examination on an injured toe and his return has been described as questionable.

Orton tried to hook up with Hester on a bomb down the middle of the field on first down but overthrew the receiver, but Peterson found a crease and ran for nine yards on second down and Orton snuck behind the center for a first down on third down. Orton then hooked up with WR Brandon Lloyd for a gain of 15 yards and another first down on the next play, which took the ball to the Chicago 36. An incompletion and a tackle on Peterson by Jonathan Vilma and Scott Fujita after a yard brought up a third down which the Bears made more difficult after a false start penalty. The Bears completed a screen pass to Peterson but LB Scott Shanle tackled the running back in the open field after a short gain and Maynard hit a 30-yard punt that wasn’t returned.

The Saints once again managed to drive onto the Bears’ side of the field on their next drive but bogged down at the Chicago 39 and Pakulak was called on to pin the Bears deep in their own territory, but his punt bounded off the rock hard surface and into the end zone.

The Saints’ defense stopped the Bears on three downs, as Scott Fujita came up with a timely first down stop on a Peterson run and a third down pass defensed by DT Sedrick Ellis. The Saints took over at their own 30 yard-line and Thomas was stopped for no gain on first down. Reggie Bush, who had gingerly limped off the field after the previous punt return, bolted through the middle for a gain of seven yards on second down and Brees converted a third and short with a five-yard pass to Lance Moore. WR Robert Meachem couldn’t hang onto a pass on first down and Chicago DE Alex Brown sacked Brees for a six-yard loss on second down. But the Saints converted the third-and-16 with a 24-yard completion down the middle of the field to WR Marques Colston. On the play Bush stepped in with a perfectly executed blitz pick-up, which gave Brees the time to throw. A first down pass was batted down in the secondary by a Bears defender but Moore caught a second down screen pass that picked up seven yards. Third down, though, continued to plague the Saints and Brees’s pass intended for Colston sailed over his head. Pakulak hit a 38-yard punt that was downed by CB Usama Young inside the Chicago 1 with 10:38 left in the first half.

Orton, though, mishandled the snap and Vilma pounced on the loose ball inside the two. Mike Karney was stopped short of the line of scrimmage on first down, but Brees hit Thomas out of the backfield and he made DE Adewale Ogunleye miss the tackle and Thomas vaulted into the end zone. Thomas’s touchdown gave him five straight games with a score and K Garrett Hartley converted the extra point to tie the game at 7-7.

The Bears again received a break when Manning returned the Saints’ kickoff, this time for 52 yards to the New Orleans 41. The Bears converted a third-and-13 when Hester was interfered with at the Saints’ one-yard line on a deep pass attempt and two plays alter Forte burrowed behind right guard Robert Garza for a touchdown that gave the Bears a 14-7 following Robbie Gould’s extra point.

The Saints’ offense couldn’t muster a first down after stopping the Saints on a first down run, a second down gain of four by Bush on a hand-off around the right side and a third down pass from Brees to Bush that picked up two yards after Brees was dropped from behind just as he was throwing the football. Pakulak hit a wobbly punt to the Chicago 27 that wasn’t returned.

Vilma nearly intercepted a pass intended for FB Jason Davis, but couldn’t come up with the interception. Forte picked up five yards on second down on an inside handoff, but a third down completion to Lloyd picked up eight yards. Saints Head Coach Sean Payton challenged that veracity of the call on the field and challenged the ruling, claiming that Lloyd didn’t have possession of the ball. Referee Mike Carey, after looking at the video replay, concurred and the Bears elected to punt from their own 32 with 4:50 left on clock. CB Usama Young was credited with a pass defensed on the play.

Moore went back as the punt return specialist and fielded Maynard’s 56-yard punt and could only manage a two-yard return to the Saints’ 14. G Jahri Evans was hit with a five-yard penalty for a false start, which pushed the Saints back to their own 9. Brees tried to hook up with Colston down the middle but CB Charles Tillman knocked the ball away from Colston’s reach at the last second. Thomas then picked up three yards on a sweep on second down and the Saints were flagged for another false start (Jon Stinchcomb). A third and long pass to Lance Moore narrowly bounced off the turf and the Saints were forced to punt from deep in their own territory to the ever-dangerous Hester, who managed a five-yard return to the New Orleans 42.

Orton hit TE Desmond Clark for a gain of two yards on first down and the Saints called a timeout with 2:59 left in the half. Orton then hit Hester for a gain of eight yards and a first down and the Saints spent their second timeout. Orton then checked down a pass to Forte for eight yards to the Saints’ 22 as the clock ticked down to the 2:00 warning.

Orton then connected with Davis for a 12-yard completion and two plays later a six yard pass to Forte to the Saints’ 6. The Bears went ahead on a third-and-goal scramble by Orton that saw the signal-caller dive into the end zone with just under a minute to go in the half and put the Bears ahead 21-7.

The Saints out-gained the Bears in the first half, 140-105 yards, but owned a decided advantage in kickoff return stats, as Manning’s 135 yards on two kickoffs proved to be the difference in the first half of the contest.

New Orleans began the first half at their own 29 yard-line. Thomas began with a hard-hitting run up the middle for a gain of four yards to the 33 and then came right back with a gain of four yards to the 37. On a third-and-two Brees bought time with some night footwork in the pocked and found Moore over the middle for a gain of six yards. Thomas then churned his way through the middle for a gain of five yards on first down and was dropped behind the line of scrimmage by LB Lance Briggs for a loss of a yard.

TE Jeremy Shockey made his first reception of the game with an 11-yard reception to the Chicago 41. On the next play Brees lofted a 22-yard completion to TE Billy Miller to the Bears’ 19. DE Matt Toeaina knocked Brees’ next pass down at the line of scrimmage and Bush was stopped at the line of scrimmage on a second down rushing play. The Saints were forced to call a timeout after the play-clock ticked all the way down to :01 with 9:36 left in the third quarter and with the football on the 19. Brees hit Thomas out of the backfield for a gain of nine and shy of the first down markers. Thomas appeared to dive and reach with the football for the first down and Head Coach Sean Payton challenged the spot of the football with the ball resting on the 10 yard-line.

Carey, following the review, spotted the ball at the nine-and-a-half yard-line, inches shy of the first down. The Saints were charged with their second timeout because the re-spotting of the ball didn’t result in a first down. Brees, on fourth down, snuck behind C Jonathan Goodwin for the first down.

Brees, though, was intercepted on first and goal from the nine when Adewale Ogunleye jumped and snared a Brees pass at the Bears’ 16 intended for TE Buck Ortega. The interception ended the Saints’ 12-play, 62-yard drive that took 6:29 off of the clock.

Chicago hammered out a first down on their initial series and then Orton hit Forte for a 12-yard completion and a first down and kept throwing, with a 10-yard completion to TD Greg Olsen to midfield. After a short Forte run and a pressure on Orton second down by Will Smith, S Josh Bullocks intercepted Orton at the Saints’ 32 and returned the ball 23 yards to the Chicago 45 with 4:26 left in the third quarter. It was Bullocks’ first interception of the season and he became the eighth player on the Saints this season to intercept at least one pass.

Thomas then picked up three yards on first down and came right back with a 42-yard touchdown run, the longest touchdown run of his career. The touchdown, his second of the night, was his 11th of the season and the eighth in the last five games and his fourth multi-touchdown game of the season and brought the Saints to within a touchdown, 21-14.

The Saints, behind a timely first down play from Scott Shanle and a hard-hit on Forte by Vilma second down gave the Bears a third-and-lone situation that the Saints’ defense sniffed out and denied the Bears of a first down after a four-yard completion to Olsen. Maynard hit a 36-yard punt that wasn’t returned and the Saints took over at their own 25 yard-line.

An incompletion and a three-yard run by Thomas brought up a third-and-seven. Brees threw a bullet over the middle to Miller on third down for a 12-yard gain and a first down and came right back on the final play of the third quarter to hit Colston on a crisp out-route for a gain of nine yards to the Saints’ 48.

Karney bulled his way forward for the first down and then Brees hit Colston for a gain of nine yards. Thomas converted the short yardage situation in a first down and Brees came right back and connected with Moore on a nine-yard gain. Thomas picked up a yard on a carry and then Brees continued his hot hand with a 14-yard over the middle to Thomas to the Chicago 14. Brees and Miller hooked up for a one-yard completion on first down and Thomas was hammered after a one-yard gain. A third down screen to Moore was stopped by the Bears for no gain and Payton sent out Hartley to try a 30-yard field goal, which he drilled with 9:07 left in the game to chip further into the Bears’ lead, 21-17. The 14 play, 63 yard drive took over seven minutes off the clock.

The Saints’ defense, though, stopped the Bears on a three-and-out and forced the Bears special teams punt unit onto the field. Maynard tried a fake punt and instead lofted a pass down the middle of the field to Peterson, who the officials ruled dropped the pass. The Bears challenged the ruling, claiming Peterson caught the pass and was down by contact. The ruling after the replay was that Peterson did not have possession of the ball and the Saints took over at the Chicago 47. A Thomas run off right guard picked up five yards, before a Brees completion to Thomas picked up four more. Karney was stopped on third and inches shy of the first down and the Saints went for it on fourth down with a sweep to the right but Thomas was stopped by CB Charles Tillman for a loss of five yards at the Chicago 43 with 5:29 left in the game.

Orton’s first down pass was dropped in the flat by Davis and Scott Fujita read Orton and slide underneath the coverage to intercept Orton at their 48 and returned it 17 yards to the Chicago 31.

A first down incompletion, followed by DE Alex Brown tossing Thomas for a five-yard loss brought up a third and 15 and Brees fired a 22-yard completion to Colston to the Chicago 14. Thomas picked up three yards on a first down carry, then Brees tried to hit Shockey in the end zone but the two couldn’t connect.

On third-and-seven from the 11, Brees coolly bought time and found Colston across the middle of the field for a touchdown and the Saints’ first lead of the night, 24-21, after Hartley’s extra point.

The Bears started their drive at their own 30 and picked up a 20-yard completion to Hester on their second play of the drive. On a third-and-five from the 44 Orton hit Hester for a nine-yard completion and a first down at the Saints’ 35 as the clock hit the two-minute warning. Two short completions to Olsen picked up another first down to the Saints’ 25. Usama Young nearly intercepted an Orton pass at the 18 yard-line, but the ball was hauled in by diving Bears receiver Brandon Lloyd for a gain of seven yards. Orton then hit Olsen for a gain of four yards at the 15 for a first down with :19 left.

The officials reviewed the completion to Olsen, checking the spot of the ball and ruled that Olson did not get to the first down markers and moved the ball back a yard. On a third-and-one from the Saints’ 16 Orton hit Olsen in the flat for a gain of seven yards and a first down with :12 left. Orton tried to fade pass to Olsen in the corner of the end zone but tight defense by Jason David resulted in an incompletion. DT Sedrick Ellis sacked Orton at the nine with :02 left in the game and with the ball resting on the nine. Chicago called their final timeout of the half and K Robbie Gould trotted out to attempt the game-tying 28-yard field, which he converted with a kick right down the middle. The 13- play drive covered 60 yards in 3:05.

Chicago won the coin toss and elected to receive and started at their own 30. Forte tried the middle for a gain of six yards and came right back on second down and found a crease for a gain of eight yards and a first down at the 44. Peterson picked up three yards on first down and Orton misfired on a second down pass intended for TE Desmond Clark.

On third-and-long Orton dropped deep in the pocket and fired a deep pass down the middle of the field for Hester. S Roman Harper chased Hester but ran into Hester and flags flew, with Harper being called for a 38-yard pass interference infraction, which gave the Bears the ball at the Saints’ 15 yard-line. Two plays later Gould connected on a 35-yard field goal that gave the Bears the 27-24 win.

Pregame Deactivations: The Saints deactivated the following players before the game: QB Joey Harrington (third QB), S Terrence Holt, RB Deuce McAllister, DE Tearrius George, T Jammal Brown, DE Rob Ninkovich, WR David Patten and DE Josh Savage.

Weather Update: The temperature in Chicago at kickoff was 28 degrees with the wind blowing out of the north-northwest at 10 miles per hour. According to local weather reports there was little chance of precipitation this evening. The natural grass field is frozen but according to LB Scott Fujita “it seems like it’s in better shape than the last two games we have played here.”

The last time the Saints played in a game with a temperature in the 20’s at kickoff was the NFC Championship game on January 21, 2007 at Soldier Field when it was 28 degrees at kickoff with a wind chill factor that made it feel like 13 degrees. Tonight’s wind chill factor made it feel like 14 degrees at kickoff.

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