All that stood between Chicago Bears running back Jordan Howard and a 6-yard, score-tying touchdown in the first quarter was Saints safety Kenny Vaccaro. But considering the way Vaccaro has been playing lately, New Orleans' defense couldn't have asked for better odds.
Vaccaro has been at his professional best during the Saints' five-game winning streak, and Sunday against the Bears in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome was no different.
The Bears took possession with 5:17 left in the quarter, trailing 7-0, from their own 25-yard line. In three plays, they were at the Saints' 17, mainly courtesy of a 45-yard pass from Mitchell Trubisky to Tre McBride III. And from there, Howard ran off left guard, left tackle and left guard again for a combined 11 yards, to give the Bears first-and-goal from the Saints' 6.
But on first down, Howard tested the left end and that's where he met Vaccaro.
Vaccaro took down Howard for a yard loss – if he'd have failed, Howard likely would have scooted around the end and crossed the goal line untouched. And Vaccaro's teammates followed his lead on the next two plays, with tackle Tyeler Davisontackling Tarik Cohen for a yard loss on the next play, and Trubisky throwing incomplete on third down to force the Bears to settle for Connor Barth's 27-yard field goal.
The Saints protected their lead, stifled Chicago's momentum and set the tone for a day in which the defense held the Bears to 12 points in a 20-12 victory. And Vaccaro simply continued to show up big – two tackles for loss, a half-sack, one pass defensed, one quarterback hit and a team-high nine tackles for the day.