The New Orleans Saints are headed to the divisional round of the playoffs. The Saints toppled the Chicago Bears on Sunday, 21-9, in their Super Wild-Card Weekend game. It was a defensive struggle for much of the afternoon, but Drew Brees found Michael Thomas and Latavius Murray for touchdown passes, while Alvin Kamara found the end zone on the ground in the fourth quarter.
The Saints held the Chicago offense completely in check for just about the entire game, with the exceptions being a dropped touchdown pass by Bears receiver Javon Wims and a twisting, one-handed touchdown grab by Jimmy Graham on the final play of the game. The Bears never really threatened to get all that close to the Saints after the Wims drop, though, and New Orleans won going away. From here, the Saints will await the Buccaneers for the divisional round and as we gear up for that NFC South contest, let's take a deeper dive into how this game unfolded from the Superdome.
Why New Orleans won
This win should largely be credited to New Orleans' defense who was able to stuff Chicago's offense for the bulk of the night. During meaningful action, the Bears managed just three points in the contest as the Saints defense did a strong job pressuring Mitchell Trubisky while taking away his primary receiving option in Allen Robinson. Sean Payton's unit also did a great job bottling up running back David Montgomery, who was coming into this playoff matchup after a white-hot end to the regular season. In this matchup, he was held to just 31 yards on the ground on 2.6 yards per carry.
While the defense did its job keeping the Bears' offense at bay, Drew Brees and company had no problem putting up points and grinding out the clock. New Orleans ran 26 more offensive plays than Chicago, had 16 more first down, and had almost a 15 minute time of possession advantage. Even as the Saints running game wasn't particularly efficient (3.5 yards per carry), they still were able to churn out 123 yards on the ground and a score. Drew Brees, meanwhile, completed 28 of his 39 throws for 265 yards and two touchdowns. While he wasn't on the receiving end of either of Brees' two passing scores, receiver Deonte Harris was a breakout star in this game, notching career-highs in both receptions (7) and receiving yards (83), both led the team and the game.
Why Chicago lost
The Bears came into this game with the 31st ranked third-down conversion percentage in the league (34.6%) and that reared its ugly head in Sunday's contest. Chicago was shut out on third down throughout the game, failing to move the chains on the critical down on their first nine tries before finally converting a third-and-2 coming out of the two-minute warning in the fourth quarter and the game already out of reach. They also failed to convert their lone fourth-down attempt. When you compound those struggles with New Orleans' success in that area (converted 11 of their 17 third downs), it's no wonder to see the Saints dominate time of possession and have a much better groove on offense.
On top of that poor execution on third-down, the play-calling was questionable at times for Chicago. After forcing the Saints to punt the football away, the Bears were going to get the ball with 1:49 to play before halftime and down just 7-3. With Matt Nagy's club getting the ball coming out of the break, this seemed like a marvelous opportunity to be aggressive and add points around halftime. Instead of pushing the ball down the field, however, Nagy's offense ran three straight run plays before booting the ball back to New Orleans. That type of scared play-calling and unwillingness to give the offense a chance to hang in there with the Saints offense proved to be part of their undoing.
As crazy as this sounds, the key swing in this game came in the first quarter during Chicago's second offensive possession of the night. It was at that point where the Bears ran a trick play that freed up receiver Javon Wims deep in the end zone. Trubisky was able to throw a perfect pass from the 50-yard line and hit Wims in the bread-basket in the end zone, but he simply couldn't hang onto it as the ball fell right through his hands. That play would have tied the game at seven apiece and swung the momentum swiftly in the direction of the Bears. Instead, it was a soul-crushing moment that they seemingly couldn't recover from. The Bears also rarely attempt a deep shot like that again for the rest of the contest.
Play of the game
While Jimmy Graham's one-handed touchdown at the end of regulation deserves some recognition, we're going with this catch-and-run touchdown by Latavius Murray during more competitive action as the top play.
With just over four minutes to play in the third quarter and the score still at 7-3 in favor of the Saints, Brees ran a play-action play that looked like was going to be dismantled by the Bears. However, Murray, after disrupting Khalil Mack's path to Brees, was able to shoot up, call for the touch pass, and was eventually able to hammer his way into the end zone for a touchdown and give the Saints a bit more breathing room. That awareness to see the play breaking down, jump back up to serves and an outlet for Brees and score shows Murray's football IQ is off the charts.
As Chicago heads into the offseason, the Saints will await the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for a Divisional Round matchup. That game will kick off on Sunday, January 17 at 6:40 p.m. ET and air on FOX. The Saints swept the season-series against this team during the regular season and will be looking to make it three-straight to punch a ticket to the NFC Championship.