Check out some game action photos from the Saints-Bears Week 8 matchup in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
In past seasons – the past three, to be specifically – Sunday's game against the Chicago Bears in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome was the type of game that the New Orleans Saints (5-2) would have lost. The fact that they didn't, and posted a 20-12 victory, and now haven't lost in five consecutive games, says something about the kind of team that the Saints have shown themselves to be thus far. Mainly, they've been a team that has been resilient, that has been dynamic at times and that, above all, has been able to find ways to win even when perfection was absent. Take Sunday, for example:
OFFENSE: New Orleans didn't finish off the Bears nearly as cleanly as it could have, and should have. Two fourth-quarter fumbles by Mark Ingram ruined what otherwise would have been a solid day for Ingram (75 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries) and left open the door for a Bears offense that gashed the Saints for a couple of explosive plays, but couldn't finish off their drives with touchdowns. The Saints did score a touchdown on their opening possession for the first time this season, and Ingram's 1-yard touchdown dive in the second quarter gave them a 14-3 lead that proved to be insurmountable. But the Saints were 2 for 9 on third-down attempts and they left a ton of yards, and a few more points, on the field. Quarterback Drew Brees had a couple of long completions – a 54-yarder to Brandon Coleman (the team's longest play from scrimmage this season), a 53-yarder to Ted Ginn Jr. , a 48-yarder to Alvin Kamara and a 23-yarder to Michael Thomas – but the Bears did a good job of pressuring and forcing checkdowns for much of the game. And Chicago kept New Orleans out of the end zone by getting third-down stops. Clearly, the Saints will be working on improving those numbers (they're converting 38.1 percent of the time on third down this season).
DEFENSE: For those who have been longing for the day when the Saints offense didn't need to score 31 points and slice an opposing defense for 450 yards in order for the team to have a chance to win, that day certainly appears to be upon us. The Saints defense has been in a groove since the opening two games of the season; Sunday, it allowed just 12 points (two field goals and a touchdown) and 307 yards to the Bears. It gave up more explosive plays than is comfortable – runs of 50 and 46 yards to Jordan Howard and Mitchell Trubisky, and a 45-yard reception to Tre McBride III. But the defense also produced a couple of sacks (one by defensive end Trey Hendrickson and one shared by defensive end Cam Jordan and safety Kenny Vaccaro), seven tackles for loss (Vaccaro and linebacker Craig Robertson had two apiece), nine passes defensed and a game-sealing interception by rookie cornerback Marshon Lattimore. This has become a group that not only isn't a weakness, but is a strength. During the five-game winning streak, the Saints' defense has allowed 13 points to Carolina, shut out Miami, 24 points to Detroit, 17 points to Green Bay and 12 points to the Bears. Also, it has produced 16 sacks and nine interceptions during that stretch. The unit isn't just eating, it's gorging. It has to prevent the chunk plays, though.
SPECIAL TEAMS: We can start and stop here with kicker Wil Lutz and punter Thomas Morstead. The Saints didn't overly help themselves on kickoff returns (two for 28 yards) and weren't outstanding on punt returns (three for 22), but Lutz and Morstead were anchors. Lutz made field goals of 45 and 49 yards, the latter with 95 seconds left to provide the final points of the game, and Morstead punted four times for a 51-yard average and a 46.3-yard net. His 56-yarder in the third quarter checked up and was downed at the Bears' 3-yard line. And let's not forget that Lutz came through with a tackle on a kickoff return. True, he was penalized for a horse collar tackle; but remember this, Chicago's Tarik Cohen found a seam and Lutz managed to angle him to the left sideline in order to prevent the return from being significantly more damaging than it was.