September 18, 2011

Poydras Payback: Saints crush Cutler, Bears in Dome, 30-13

The Saints exorcised many of the demons from their last three season-ending losses to the Bears with a six-sack brutalizing of Jay Cutler and with a convincing offensive performance.  The 30-13 win overcame some troublesome officiating and an strong start by the Bears.

The Bears collected a third quarter field goal but were shut out and shut down after that, the loss of starting rookie RT Gabe Carimi and the presence of C Olin Kreutz on the other sideline were especially painful for the Bears' protection schemes.

Former Tulane RB Matt Forte was a rare bright spot for the Bears and accounted for 166 of the Bear's 304 total yards.  Cutler completed 10 of 19 passes to Forte, and scored a touchdown on his first drive.

Meanwhile, Drew Brees tossed three touchdowns against a tough Bears defense, completing 26 of 37 passes for 270 yards.  Between rookie Mark Ingram, Darren Sproles and Pierre Thomas, the Saints found 109 rushing yards as well, though the Saints were one-dimensional with their pass attack until the game was in control.

The Bears got traction in the first quarter former Tulane RB Matt Forte broke free for a 42-yard gain around right tackle on his old college turf.  Two plays later Bears QB Jay Cutler dodged all three of the Saints' down linemen and threw across the field to Forte, who leapt over poor tackle attempts - the first by starting CB Patrick Robinson -  before finally being pushed out of bounds for an 18-yard gain.

That play, the sixth offensive snap by the Bears, was as poor a showing by the Saints' defense as we've become used to seeing, with nearly half the defense missing a tackle.  The frustrating part was that it was bracketed by a tackle four yards behind the line of scrimmage by LB Jo-Lonn Dunbar, and a smartly-read blown-up screen play.

The Saints defense used a lot of personnel early on, with LB Jo-Lonn Dunbar starting in a 3-4 alignment that was exchanged the front seven almost wholesale on the second snap of the game.  The secondary, without Tracy Porter, was also a confusion of players sliding around, with versatile Malcolm Jenkins returning to his rookie position of cornerback at times and undrafted rookie Isa Abdul-Quddus playing free safety.

On the Bears' second drive, SS Roman Harper devastated WR Earl Bennett with a speared helmet that send Bennett to the bench curled over his abdomen.  Bennett was credited with the catch, setting up third and short, but he would not return to the game.

Later in the drive first round pick DE Cameron Jordan chased down Cutler rolling right, and sacked Cutler, though Cutler dumped the ball away at the end and was called for intentional grounding for a ten yard loss.  Not technically a sack for the rookie.

LB Scott Shanle was flagged for defensive holding on the next snap, as he was tugging on the jersey of Sanzenbacher on an incomplete pass, wiping out what would have been 3rd and 20.  Instead, the Bears had a first down at the Saints 20, a very frustrating penalty.  Shanles' contact came within five yards of the line of scrimmage but the five yard penalty with automatic first down was called.

Two short runs by Forte set up third down and six yards at the Saint 14.  A stacked line of scrimmage resulted in a quick, incomplete throw by Cutler, but Roman Harper's hurrying hit on Cutler was flagged for roughing the passer.  It was a terrible call, immediately panned by broadcasters and national media, as it appeared to be a clean hit on the quarterback that did not involve any helmet contact.

Two plays later, the Bears finished their penalty-aided drive with a pass to wide open rookie WR Dane Sanzenbacher in the end zone.

The Saints' first rush of the game was an-end around by Robert Meachem a yard short of the first down. Meachem was tackled by three Bears, the last two hit Meachem out of bounds and crashed him back into the seating area bench.  There was no flag, but Payton was on the refs immediately like a junkyard dog.  The Saints called a timeout as a livid Payton and the crowd lambasted the refs.

Oddly, after the timeout and the fury about the non-call, the refs adjusted their spot of Meachem's run to a full football-length past the first down marker.

The Saints converted third down three snaps later with a crossing route to Devery Henderson and a 12-yard gain.  On the next snap, Pierre Thomas did what Pierre Thomas does - he was under duress two yards in the backfield but fought through tackles on his way to an eight yard gain.  Lance Moore caught his first pass of the season, returning healthy from his preseason groin injury, for a quick seven yard gain.

After a short gain by Sproles, the Saints faced 3rd and 1.  Short yardage continues to be a haunted down for Brees - his fade pass to TE Jimmy Graham in the end zone was incomplete.  That pass to Graham was Brees' second incompletion on eleven pass attempts.  The Saints settled for a 31-yard field goal by John Kasay.

The Saints forced a three and out on the Bears' third drive when CB Jabari Greer hung with ultra-fast WR Johnny Knox on a quick out and batted the ball away.

Brees' next drive saw RT Zach Strief beaten by DE Israel Idonije for a sack on Brees on second down, setting up 3rd and 12.  That set up the biggest highlight of the Saints' season so far.

Brees, with Thomas and Sproles aside him in shotgun, looked deep for Devery Henderson, who ran vertical out of the slot.  S Major Wright and rookie Chris Conte fell at Henderson's ankles and he jogged into the end zone from 79 yards out.  Brees' perfect throw was launched at the 13 and hit Henderson in stride at the Bear 32.  The Saints went up 10-7, their first lead of the season.  It is Henderson's second touchdown of the season, one more already than he had in all of 2010.

On the next drive, the Saints got a good, clean hit on Cutler that didn't draw a flag - rolling right Cutler was flatted by pursuing S Malcolm Jenkins.  Cutler's pass sailed incomplete to Forte, and he got up very slowly, but didn't leave.  He stayed in the game to throw incomplete on third down.

Bears WR Sam Hurd ran into Darren Sproles on the fair catch opportunity, so the Saints took over near midfield with 11:25 left in the second quarter.  A false start on former Saint draft pick, former Bear, and newly-signed Saint TE John Gilmore, Jr. set the Saints back but Pierre Thomas got the Saints back on track with a nine yard run and a 12-yard screen.

But then the Saints found themselves in their least favorite territory - near the end zone, third down and one. They tried something new this time, a toss flip to rookie RB Mark Ingram, who ran wide right, slammed into the first defender but was dropped for a two-yard loss.  New strategy, same result so far for the Saints.  Sean Payton has to find a way to pick up the one yard when he needs it.

The Saints settled for another short field goal from Kasay and a 13-7 lead with just under six minutes left in the half.  That was the Saints' seventh red zone possession of the season, with only one touchdown to show.

The defense settled down though, forcing another three-and-out by the Bears as Cutler tossed incomplete to Devin Hester over the middle.  LB Jonathan Vilma was injured on this drive and later walked gingerly to the locker room, but would emerge from half time and start.

With a little over four minutes left in the half, Brees went down field again, hitting Jimmy Graham for 31 yards over the middle.  Graham went up high to get the rebound and was hit hard by newly-added Bears S Sean Meriweather, but got up smiling.  Runs by Ingram picked up nine but then lost four yards, and on third down Julius Peppers brought Drew Brees down.  Brees flipped the ball to Sproles in the flat as he went down, so Peppers was robbed of the sack.

On fourth and four, the Saints lined up for a field goal but then split into a fake shotgun formation with Chase Daniel as the QB and Kasay split wide right.  Who knows what they would have run though - G Brian de la Puente was flagged for false start.  The Saints opted for a 53-yard field goal by John Kasay, who booted it with a couple yards to spare.  It would have been Daniel's first pass attempt in a meaningful game - his only pass attempts so far have come in garbage time of the Saints' regular season finale last season.

The Saints fielded a defense for the Bears' final drive of the half without Vilma.  Second-year CB Patrick Robinson had a beautiful pass breakup on first down, but the Bears converted a long third down two plays later and were driving under the two minute warning.  Three straight passes to Forte moved the Bears near midfield, and picked up the Bear's first first down of the quarter.  Cutler scrambled and slid to the Saint 41, then fired a pass that was masterfully batted away by Greer.  The Bears were forced to take their final timeout when rookie T Gabe Carimi went down with an injury.  With :23 left Forte beat Scott Shanle for 17 yards on a release out of the slot down to the Saint 24.  Cutler didn't clock the ball and overshot into the end zone.

The Bears settled for a 42-yard field attempt with 5 seconds left, and the Saints went to the locker room up 16-10.

Brees was unable to get anything on the first drive, and the Saints punted quickly.  RB Matt Forte led the Bears down the field on their first drive of the half, the former Tulane grad clearly the only thing going for Mike Martz's offense.  Time and again, Cutler hit the hard-to-tackle Forte on dump off passes for good gains.  The Bears settled for a field goal on that drive after Cutler fired three straight incomplete passes, the last two into the back of the end zone, and the Saints were up 16-13.

The Saints punted again, as Brees missed his first three passes of the half, but the Saints offense would get a big boost when DE Turk McBride blindsided Jay Cutler and forced a fumble which Vilma would recover.  TE Kellen Davis drew one-on-one blocking from McBride, and was beaten badly.  Brees took over at the Bear 29 thanks to the defense's first turnover in seven quarters played this season.

A sideline strike to Adrian Arrington, the fourth receiver today with Colston out, moved the Saints to the Bear  9.  Two straight Mark Ingram runs moved the Saints back to their tormented situation - third and short.  This time though, the Saints found some success - Brees sat for a moment in the pocket then fired for Meachem in the front of the end zone, who made the easy catch standing still.  The Saints were up 23-13 after Kasay's extra point.

On the next drive Malcolm Jenkins almost had the defense's second turnover of the season, but let an interception bounce off his chest while he was flying over a receiver.  The Saints forced another punt by the Bears at the 5:13 mark in the third quarter, after Sanzenbacher dropped a first down pass.  Cutler threw his arms up in frustration as he walked off the field.  Cutler would later be seen standing by himself at the end of the bench.

The Saints took over and recovered from a Carl Nicks holding penalty with passes Henderson and Graham.  Brees would fire to Graham again over the middle, and the big-bodied power forward leveled a hit on S Major Wright, who laid prone and still on the turf after the hit.  Wright got up and later walked to the locker room.    Later in the drive, the Saints faced their nemesis again - third and one at the Bear 32.

This time, Mark Ingram plunged up the middle and got into the secondary for a 12-yard gain for the first down.  Ingram two plays later met CB Tim Jennings two yards past the line of scrimmage, then carried Jennings and others for a nine yard gain.

On another third and two, Darren Sproles caught a flare pass and zipped down the right sideline for an apparent touchdown.  Sproles looked like he stepped out at the one yard line, but a replay review was not initiated by the refs.  A poor game for this officiating crew - they should have called a replay review for that and ruled Sproles down at the one yard line.  Instead, the Saints kicked the extra point and the Saints were up 30-13.  The Saints converted four third downs on that drive that took almost 8 minutes off the clock.

The Bears got moving again with Devin Hester's first catch allowed and more of the same Matt Forte.  But LB Jonathan Casillas returned from an earlier knee injury to sack Cutler for a 12-yard loss on third down, snuffing out that drive. The Bears pinned the Saints deep in their own territory and Brees ended up throwing twice under duress out of his end zone before Thomas Morstead boomed a 59-yard punt out of bounds to neutralize Devin Hester.  A protection bust on the next play moved Cutler back another nine yards, the sack credited to Junior Galette and Sedrick Ellis.

FS Malcolm Jenkins single-handedly ended the drive on the next two plays, blowing up a screen to Forte for a short loss on second down, then dislodging a pass from Sanzenbacher on a pass over the middle on third.

Both defenses ground to a halt late in the game, Payton and Brees kept passing the ball, with little success, despite a 17-point lead.  The Bears, with serious protection problems, allowed another sack on Cutler with 4:36 left in the game, and the lineman started to scuffle.  Cutler showed Jo-Lonn Dunbar on the ground to start the fracas, but no flags were thrown.  On the next play, Roman Harper would collected back-to-back sacks when the Bears went for it on 4th and 23.

The Saints took over, but the offensive stagnation continued.  Mark Ingram fumbled going forward and lost the ball, which was recovered at the Bear 9.  Cutler, banged up from the last series, took the field again with five wide receivers - and DE Junior Galette sacked Cutler untouched at the Bear two yard line.  The Bears would punt after two incomplete passes by Cutler, who threw uncatchable balls as pass rushers closed in on him in the end zone.

FOX analyst Joe Buck commented with 2:59 left in the game, "This is one defeated offense today."

Meanwhile, the Saints offense accomplished virtually nothing after Sproles' touchdown, gaining no first downs despite multiple opportunities until the final play.  With :29 left on 4th and 3, Ingram carried left and picked up the first down, sealing the win.

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