Another year, another New Orleans Saints appearance in the NFC Divisional Round. But this win… felt… different.
In what was primarily a defensive battle from the onset, similar to another 40-plus-year-old NFC South quarterback, Drew Brees, despite the critics, has now led the Saints to its third Divisional Round game in the past four seasons.
With the win, Brees joined Brett Favre and Tom Brady as the only quarterbacks to win a playoff game after turning 40 years old.
But, his route to the Lombardi Trophy seems to be dependent upon a different avenue this postseason.
New Orleans’ defense flat out couldn’t have had a more perfect game plan for Chicago.
Schematically, Saints defensive coordinator Dennis Allen kept it simple; stack the box and force turnover-prone Mitchell Trubisky to beat them with his arm. It worked, and the Bears were lifeless on offense the entire night.
Coming into the evening, Bears running back David Montgomery had been outstanding; rushing for 598 yards and seven touchdowns combined over the final six games to finish the regular season. Despite the prior success, he served as everything Chicago had and didn’t have going for them on Sunday night as the Bears looked for their first playoff victory in a decade.
The Saints were everywhere.
Chicago managed just 48 yards on the ground to a tune of 2.5 yards a pop; The longest run of the day came on a seven-yard scamper by Tribusky. They were horrid in the run game.
Quarterback play didn’t make Matt Nagy’s hot seat any cooler. Trubisky, who Bears ownership has reportedly already moved on from, was again, poor. And despite it all, the Bears still saw themselves neck and neck with the NFC South champs as the fourth quarter neared.
Like it’s been for multiple weeks, and years, the Bears’ offense simply struggled to get anything going until New Orleans was already in prevent. The opportunities were there, Javon Wims.
The Bears’ “offense” totaled a measly 103 yards in the first half, with their only three points coming on a second-quarter Cairo Santos field goal set up by a John Jenkins fumble recovery deep in Saints’ territory.
But as much as the Bears were bad, the Saints were excellent.
For context, Chicago didn’t convert their first third-down conversion until their final drive of the game. In total, the Bears converted just one of 10 third-down opportunities and accumulated more penalty yards (50) than total rushing yards on the evening. Allen Robinson, who most likely played his last game as a Bear, had six catches totaling 55 yards for the lone “bright” spot of the evening. Additionally, the Bears totaled just 21 minutes of possession compared to the Saints’ 39 total minutes with the rock, six minutes more than their per-game average.
The issues for Chicago continued, and frustrations caused by the Saints’ unrelenting defense ultimately boiled over. Following a flag on Bears tight end Cole Kmet for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, receiver Anthony Miller was ejected for throwing a punch at Saints defensive back C.J. Gardner-Johnson, the same player Wims punched in the teams’ first meeting this season.
From start to finish, the Saints were dominant in every phase.
In years past, Sean Payton’s offense has been predicated on out-scoring the opponent. However, with 2020 serving as Drew Brees’ potential final ride in the bayou, and criticism abound for his recent drop in play, a different formula seems to be in the works for how the Saints will look to attack their opposition, starting with Tampa Bay next week.
“Don’t take it for granted,’' Brees said of the upcoming matchup with Brady. “Listen, the minute that he signed with the Bucs and came to the division, you felt like that was going to be a team to contend with. That was going to be a team that had playoff aspirations and beyond, just like us. So, I guess it was inevitable.”
Brees-Brady. Conference title berth on the line. See you next weekend.