The New Orleans Saints can finally breathe a sigh of relief this postseason, after three straight seasons of losing a playoff game on the last play. Obviously beating the Chicago Bears is just their first step toward getting to the promised land and winning the Lombardi Trophy in Tampa, but any playoff win will bring smiles to their fans’ faces. However things didn’t get off to a smooth start and you have to credit the Bears defense for keeping the game close (in the first half).
The first half was a defensive slugfest where both teams struggled to move the ball, combining for 6 punts, 10 points and one turnover. The Bears defense put the clamps down on the Saints’ offense after surrendering WR Micheal Thomas’ first touchdown reception in 13 months. They held the Saints to just 55% conversion on 3rd down and used a perfectly timed blitz to snatch a rare interception of Drew Brees. The problem for Chicago is that their offense was stuck in neutral most of the half. They were held to 103 total yards of offense and their only points came on a 36 yard field goal by Cairo Santos. Chicago could very easily be up 10-7 at the moment had WR Javon Wims not dropped a wide open pass in the back of the endzone. Instead the Saints took a 7-3 lead at the half and one thing was crystal clear: both defenses came to play. This game looked as if it was going to come down to who had the ball last…or so I thought.
The 2nd half was dominated by Drew Brees and the Saints high powered offense. They used 2 long scoring drives, lasting a combined 16 minutes and 20 seconds, to send the Bears packing. The most impressive of the two touchdowns was the first one, where Drew Brees back peddled to avoid the pass rush of OLB Khalil Mack, before flipping the ball out to RB Latavius Murray for a 6 yard score. Alvin Kamara added one last dagger with a 3 yard rushing touchdown. Drew Brees attempted to add one more touchdown on a QB sneak but pulled the ball back too soon on 4th and goal. The Bears then raced 99 yards to reach the end zone and TE Jimmy Graham hauled in a one-handed 19 yard score at the buzzer to finish off the scoring. Final score: Saints win 21-9.
The Saints may have started off slow but boy did they ever deliver in the 2nd half. Nothing like having two 10+ yard touchdown drives that last over 7 minutes each to send your team to the next round. Both Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas had huge afternoons as always, but even a team with a ton of superstars like New Orleans loves to have a X-factor surprise everyone and sprinkle in big plays every once in a while. Getting 189 yards and 2 touchdowns from your top two weapons is to be expected, but how about the play of WR Deonte Harris?! He was the team’s leading receiver with 7 receptions for 83 yards. Definitely didn’t see that coming at all. They will need more of the same from Kamara and Thomas every week but getting a boost from an unexpected source will keep your opponent guessing and just make your offense more dangerous. The Saints are also the only team this season to score 21+ points in every game, but you can’t talk about this win without complimenting their defense.
The stat that jumps off the screen for me is that they held the Bears offense to just 10% on 3rd down conversions and 48 yards rushing. They forced QB Mitchell Trubisky to beat them with his arm and he just couldn’t get the job done. WR Allen Robinson may have caught six passes for 55 yards but no other receiver caught more than 2 passes and getting a touchdown at the buzzer was too little too late. It was a combination of perfectly timed pressure and blanket coverage on their receivers. Chicago looked completely outmatched in the 2nd half and now they have a lot more questions than answers heading into the offseason.
The biggest question everyone in Chicago will be asking is: who will be their QB next season? Trubisky has had an up and down career in Chicago and this year wasn’t much better. He has accumulated a 29-21 record, throwing 64 touchdowns and 37 interceptions, while going 0-2 in the playoffs. Remember he was benched for Nick Foles this season, but Foles was no better with a 2-5 record and 10 touchdowns to 8 interceptions. Without stability and reliability at the QB position, this team will never be considered a true contender or threat in the NFC. Whether they draft a QB, make a trade or sign someone in free agency, the next quarterback needs to be able to elevate this offense and avoid turnovers.
The Saints on the other hand have the gift of hosting Tom Brady and the Buccaneers next week in the divisional round. Drew Brees and company swept the Bucs this season, outscoring the 72-26 in both matchups. However considering this is a divisional rematch, I expect this game to be closer. Both teams have shown great offensive potential this season and you can expect a lot of motivation for both teams to prove they belong in the quest to reach the Super Bowl. As a Patriots fan, I know Brady will be seeking revenge and that’s a dangerous prospect to face if you’re the Saints. However after all their recent playoff heartbreak, the Saints don’t want to get sent home empty handed again.
Their matchup is set for next Sunday, January 17th at 6:40 pm ET on FOX. Who’s ready for Brady vs. Brees round 3? Get your popcorn ready folks, this game will be must watch TV!
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By: Whitney Dowds CruelFan.com