It wasn’t a day for benevolence, yielding, permitting, allowing or giving.
For the New Orleans Saints, Sunday at Soldier Field was all about taking, about dictating terms and enforcing will.
It was about sweetening a sour taste and removing a blemish, and that was accomplished in a 26-18 victory over the Bears that kept the Saints perfect this season (5-0) and gave the franchise its first win at Soldier Field since the 2000 season.
“I’m proud of our effort in a good, hard-fought game,” Coach Sean Payton said. “I thought our guys played real smart, and we did what we needed to do here to get a good, road victory.
“It wasn’t always perfect or clean in the second half, but it was good enough. We played well.”
What the Saints did, in winning their fifth game and starting 5-0 for the first time since 2009, was beat the Bears (3-2) to the punch and continue to wear them down in front of 62,361 fans.
New Orleans had lost three consecutive games in Soldier Field, including the NFC championship game in January 2007. But Sunday, the Saints never trailed and led by as much as 23-7 and 26-10 before settling on the final margin.
Chicago gained more yards (434-347) and totaled more first downs (20-17), but 184 yards and eight first downs came in the fourth quarter, with the Bears scrambling to close the gap and the Saints comfortably draining the game clock.
In that department, the Saints held a whopping advantage in possession time (36 minutes to 24). And in addition to three sacks the defense produced, it also forced and recovered a fumble. Chicago failed to convert six of 10 third-down chances and came up empty on its only fourth-down attempt.
“I feel like we’ve won in a lot of different ways this year,” said Brees, who completed 29 of 35 passes for 288 yards, with no interceptions.
Brees, in fact, won his first game at Soldier Field in five career attempts, and did so on a day in which his NFL record streak of consecutive 300-yard passing games ended at nine.
“This was all about efficiency,” he said.
And about refusing to cave in to the notion that they’d be the latest Saints team to fall short in Chicago.
Thomas, who played at Illinois, was born in Chicago. And in his latest return home he was able to pair victory with his performance.
In 2008, he had 209 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns in defeat. In 2007, he made his first career start on Dec. 30 and became the first player in team history to gain more than 100 yards rushing and receiving in the same game, in defeat.
Sunday, his numbers weren’t quite as spectacular – 19 carries for 36 yards, nine receptions for 55 yards. But his two touchdown catches (a 2-yarder and a 25-yarder off a screen pass, both in the second quarter) were the only times the Saints reached the end zone and helped New Orleans to a 20-7 halftime lead.
“This is back home for me,” Thomas said. “When I’m back here I think about all the people who helped me get where I am now.”
“Yes, he’s played well on this field,” Payton said. “I believe it was the last time we were here, and it was a tough loss, he played very well.
“He’s someone that knows what to do, who is very reliable. I thought ball security was going to be really important today. We spent a lot of time today on things that cost us when we’ve come up here to play, and we were going to try to really look closely at changing some things.
“We all talk about ball security but we had to do some things that we hadn’t done before, and I think we were able to do that.”
Chief among the foreign things was winning at Soldier Field and consider that mission accomplished.
The Saints forced a punt on the game’s opening possession, took over at their 32 and drove 39 yards in 10 plays to score on Hartley’s 47-yard field goal with 7:38 left in the first quarter.
After the Bears began their second possession at their 20 following a touchback, safety
Jordan returned it 11 yards to the 6-yard line and four plays later, the Saints added Hartley’s second field goal, a 19-yarder with six minutes left in the quarter, to take a 6-0 lead.
The teams exchanged five scoreless possessions when, after a Bears punt, New Orleans produced a quick-strike, touchdown drive. The six-play, 72-yard possession was highlighted by 29- and 38-yard passes from Brees to tight end
Chicago trimmed its deficit to 13-7 on its next drive, a seven-play, 80-yarder that culminated on Cutler’s 3-yard pass to Alshon Jeffery with 2:41 left in the half.
But that proved to be enough time for Brees and his offense to score again. In seven plays the Saints drove 71 yards, including a 35-yard pass to
Hartley added a field goal in the third and fourth quarter, and the Bears countered with 11 second-half points. But Chicago never sufficiently cracked the Saints’ code Sunday, never successfully countered the force it faced.
“We said we wanted to do something we’d never done before,” Thomas said.They did exactly that, without compromise.