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Playoff Game: Sunday, January 21, 2007 -
New Orleans Saints @ Chicago Bears
The Saints' improbable 2006-7 post-Katrina season continued with a clash against the Chicago Bears in the NFC Championship game with a berth in Super Bowl XLI on the line. Coach Lovie Smith's Bears won the NFC North Division with a 13-3 record, then defeated the Seattle Seahawks 27-24 in the first round of the playoffs.
In his first full season as a starter, QB Rex Grossman threw for 3,193y and 23 touchdowns. He had three receivers who gained over 600y, Muhsin Muhammad (863), Bernard Berrian (775), and TE Desmond Clark (626). Seven-year veteran RB Thom­as Jones ran for 1,210y to add balance to the attack, which led the NFC in points (427) ahead of the second-place Cowboys and third-place Saints.
The Bears' home-field advantage had extra clout at Soldier Field on the banks of Lake Michigan in mid-January. The high temperature would be 32 with some light snow and wind gusts 8-15mph–an immense challenge for a dome team.
The conditions put a premium on running the ball. So a key matchup would be Saints' workhorse RB Deuce McAllister vs Bears' MLB Brian Urlacher. On the other side of the ball, the Saints' leading tacklers, LBs Scott Shanle and Scott Fujita, would have to corral Jones.
The weather might take away both teams' deep-ball capability. But first-year Saints QB Drew Brees excelled in quick-release passes to rookie WR Marques Colston on slants and short flares out of the backfield to another rookie, RB Reggie Bush.
Brees recalled: "All we heard that week was how dome team can't win on the road in the playoffs in hostile environments. We didn't buy into that, but we did understand the importance of a fast start in those difficult weather conditions. Unfortunately, we started slowly in Chicago by doing all the things we said going into the game we would­n't do. We turned it over two times and made a few mental errors in the first half."
First Quarter
The game began with light sleet and snow falling intermittently. Precipitation increased some during the game, but Drew Brees said afterward, "You can say what you want about the weather, but I don't think the conditions affected us."
The first three Saints' plays were passes as they took the opening kickoff and drove 44y to the Chicago 36 before having to punt. Brees completed two passes down the left side to Marques Colston for 8y and to Devery Henderson for 40y into Bears territory. But a third-and-eight sack for a loss of six forced a punt.
Consistently stacking eight men in the box, the Bears made it difficult for the Saints to gain on the ground. Deuce McAllister, who had gashed the Eagles for 143y the week before, ran the ball just six times for 18y. Afterwards he said, "The game just didn't dictate it for me today."
The Saints moved on their second possession from their 39 to the Bears 45. Brees found WR Terrance Copper for 10y and a first down. But on third-and-4 RDE Mark Anderson smashed Brees as he dropped back to pass. The ball shot back­ward, and players from both sides raced to it. The pigskin got pushed further back before Saints OL Jahri Evans fell on it way back at the NO 34.

Mark Anderson hits Drew Brees, causing a fumble.
The teams traded punts until a turnover set up the first points. WR Marques Colston caught a pass but fumbled when hit from behind by SS Chris Harris. CB Nathan Vasher picked up the ball and ran 14y to the Saints 36.
The Bears mounted an 11-play drive that ran out of gas on the one. The big gainer was a 16y run by Rashied Davis on a reverse to the 13 on third-and-3. RB Cedric Benson's 5y run and Grossman's 4y pass to FB Jason McKie made it third-and-1 at the 3. The Saints stuffed Benson for no gain before he burrowed for the needed yard to get a new set of downs. After two incompletions sandwiched around Benson's 2y plunge made it fourth-and-goal on the 1, Coach Smith sent out Robbie Gould to kick the point-blank field goal. Bears 3 Saints 0 (14:19)
Chicago got the ball right back when return specialist Michael Lewis fumbled on the kickoff return, and Danieal Manning fell on the ball at the Saints 30.
Grossman passed to TE John Gilmore for 3y.
End Quarter 1: Bears 3 Saints 0
Saints SS Jay Bellamy: "We played great defense early. We tightened up in the red zone and made them kick field goals. That's what every defense in the NFL tries to do."
Second Quarter
The Saints went backwards on their next possession thanks to an offensive pass interference on Copper. When three plays gained only 1y, Steve Weatherford's boomed a 44y punt that Devin Hester returned 10y to the NO 49.

Devin Hester returns a punt as Mark Simoneau, Terrance Cooper, and Steve Weatherford chase.
The Bears made it to the six, but the Saints defense again stood tall to force a 24y field goal by Gould. The key play was Grossman's 30y pass to TE Desmond Clark to the 19. Two Benson runs made it first-and-goal at the 8. But the Bears again tried to pass in close to no avail to bring on the kicking team. Bears 6 Saints 0 (13:40)
The Saints made one first down on Brees's 8y third-down scramble before having to punt. This time Weatherford got off a weak 29y punt to the Chicago 31.
The Bears marched 69y in eight plays for the first touchdown of the game. Amazingly, Thomas Jones carried the ball on every play. Four of the runs came off possible pass plays that froze the Saints secondary for a second or two. The big gainers were 14y on his first rush and 33y on his third to the NO 20. Three snaps later he gained another first down at the 9. Two plays after that, he went over from the two. Bears 16 Saints 0 (13:03)

Thomas Jones scores as Mike McKenzie (34), Mark Simoneau (53), Scott Shanle (58), and Joseh Bullocks (29) trail the play.
Brees finally got the Saints going, leading a clutch 73y drive that ended with a 13y TD pass to Colston. Along the way, Drew completed 5 of 8 for 78y. The key completions were two third-and-10 conversions to Colston for 29y and to Copper for 14 to the 13. Then Drew hit Colston over the middle. John Carney booted the extra point.Bears 16 Saints 7(0:46)
Brees: "I knew we'd have to weather the storm. After we got that score before the half, I felt we were going to explode."
End Quarter 2: Bears 16 Saints 7
Third Quarter
Momentum swung further to the Saints when the Bears picked up a first down on the first play of the half, then suffered four consecutive three-and-outs.
Grossman started with a 17y pass to WR Bernard Berrian to the 41 before having to punt. Lewis returned the kick 34y, but an illegal block put the ball on the NO 14.
On second down, Brees floated a 15y swing pass to Reggie Bush, who turned it into an 88y touchdown–the longest play in NFC Championship Game history–thanks to Colston screening off S Chris Harris, the last possible tackler. As Bush neared the goal line, he turned and pointed at Brian Urlacher, his nearest pursuer, and did a somersault into the end zone. Bears 16 Saints 14 (12:20)

Reggie Bush in the clear with Lance Briggs (55) and Charles Tillman (33) chasing in vain.
Brees: "When we got the ball back (after the Bush touchdown), we really felt like this was going to be it. We finally had the opportunity to take the lead after being behind the whole game. This has been our modus operandi all season. Face the storm, and bounce back."
G Jamar Nesbit: "We felt like we had the momentum, and things were starting to go our way a little bit. It seemed like the pendulum had swung way."
What Nesbit didn't take into account was the Bears' reaction to Bush's somersault.
Bears C Olin Kreutz: "When I saw it, I just kind of looked like, what an idiot, just a young idiot, just a guy who doesn't understand that you have to earn the right to do that. He hasn't done enough this year in the league to doanything close to that, pointing to a guy like Brian Urlacher. I mean that's just ridiculous."
After the Saints' defense stopped the Bears for -2y on three plays to force a punt, the Saints offense moved to the Chicago 29 as Brees threw passes for first downs to FB Mike Karney for 9y and Deuce for 15. But after three straight misfires, Billy Cundiff tried a 47y field goal that fell short.
When another three-and-out stop by the Saints defense forced the Bears to punt, all the momentum seemed to be with the Black & Gold. But Brad Maynard's 51y punt completely turned around the field position battle when it bounced out of bounds at the Saint five.
When Brees retreated into the end zone to pass, the rush forced him to throw the ball away. That brought an intentional grounding penalty, which gave the Bears a safety since the penalty occurred in the end zone. Bears 18 Saints 14 (5:27)
Brees: "We had a little bit of pressure and some down-the-field routes on both sides. My outlet (receivers) were actually in blocking. So that was where I was throwing it–in the direction they would have been. But they weren't out of the backfield yet, and I wasn't able to get away with it there. ... I could have tried to scramble out to the right and tried to get out of the pocket. But I felt I had to get rid of the ball pretty quick."
McAllister: "We had a communication problem up front. The guy blitzed late, and I ended up picking him up. Drew was [trying to get] the ball to me, and I had to block."
The rest of the game was all Bears.
When Chicago went three-and-out after the free kick, Maynard outdid himself, launching a 66y bomb into the end zone.
The Saints made one first down on a 12y pass to TE Billy Miller before having to punt. Weatherford's 45y punt started the Bears at their 15. They marched from there to a touchdown. Grossman connected with Berrian for 13 and WR Muhsin Muhammad for 20.
End Quarter 3: Bears 18 Saints 14

TE Mark Campbell goes airborne to escape Devin Hester (23) and Nathan Vasher.
Fourth Quarter
Snow started falling.
Grossman went 4-for-4 on the 85y drive that culminated in his 33y touchdown pass to Berrian. Bears 25 Saints 14 (14:23)
The visitors needed to answer back to stay in the game. Instead Brees fumbled while being sacked by DE Adewale Ogunleye, who recovered on the Saints 26.
Benson ran three times around a short 3y pass, his last carry being a 12y touchdown. Bears 32 Saints 14 (11:37)

Brees sacked by Tommie Harris (91), Tank Johnson (99), and Adewale Ogunleye (93)
The Saints' woes continued when Vasher intercepted Brees' long second-down pass at the Chicago 38.
Desperately needing a three-and-out, the Saints defense got it. So Maynard boomed a 46y punt to the NO 8.
The Saints started strong with first downs on two straight 12y passes to Bush. But after a 7y completion to Miller, two incompletions, the second one drawing a flag for Brees' second intentional grounding after the Bears successfully challenged the original call of a fumble, forced the Saints to go for it on fourth down. An incompletion to Colston gave the Bears the ball at the NO 30.
Jones did the heavy lifting again, taking four handoffs for a total of 36y with the last resulting in a 15y touchdown. Bears 39 Saints 14 (4:18)
Nothing interesting happened the rest of the way.
It was the Saints' seventh defeat of the season, and in every one they lost the turnover battle.
Saints Locker Room
Coach Payton: "It's tough when you play in the postseason and have the finality of a loss, especially with the season we had." But he praised his squad. "It's probably the best team that I've been around in terms of togetherness and guys caring about team first. ... This is a tough loss for us in a season where everybody picked us to finish fourth in our division. It was a pretty good season. I'm proud of this team because it put a lot of effort into this season around."
Asked about abandoning the run, Sean replied, "We understand the importance of getting the ball to Deuce. But we didn't want to keep running our heads against the wall against some of the looks we were getting."
Brees: "We felt like it was kind of unfortunate that we kind of shot ourselves in the foot early. We had two turnovers, and it just felt like we were always giving them great field position. And then we had some penalties. ... They had an extra guy down there for the run the majority of the time. That's one of the reasons we threw it so much."
McAllister: "We had a special year. But right now it stings. ... You love to lean on the running game when you can, but it never really happened for us. They came out to take away our running game, and we didn't execute, and we didn't take care of the ball. But it wouldn't have mattered if we had won the game."
NT Hollis Thomas: "Too many turnovers and not enough recoveries. That's a recipe for a butt-whippin'."
Reggie Bush apologized for his somersault. "I got caught up in the emotion of the game. I was excited. I told coach Payton I apologize for it. I was wrong. I allowed my emotions to take over."
Payton added: "It was a great play, but the first thing he said to me was, 'I shouldn't have done that.'"
DE Will Smith: "It was a little bit of everything. The biggest thing was the turnovers. We didn't get any on defense."
Brees recalled: "It was tough to lose–especially after how far we'd come that season, after how much adversity we'd fought. As we headed back to the locker room, we all shared the same resolve: Next we play this game, it's going to be at our place. ... We knew that no one could win a game like that in our dome with our fans."
BearsLocker Room
Coach Smith: "We didn't really get a lot of respect ... our guys don't buy into that. They bought into each other. ... We told [Virginia McCaskey, the team owner] we would do this as a team. ... Grossman fought through adversity all season. He finished strong. ... I'm really into our tradition. I'm just trying to get our football team up to that standard [set by previous Bears teams]."
LB Brian Urlacher said stopping McAllister "was our No. 1 goal. And I think we did a pretty good job of it." Asked about Bush's somersault, Urlacher replied, "We're going to the Super Bowl."
DE Alex Brown: "We felt from the beginning of the game that they couldn't move the ball on us. They had a couple of big pass plays, but other than that not very much. We stopped the run, and we got to the quarterback. That's what you have to do to win games like this."
DL Adewale Ogunleye on the somersault: "I told Reggie that was unprofessional of him to do that. I think he's going to be a hell of a player in this league. But for him to point back and taunt, that was no class. ... I swear. I was a second away from punching him."
C Olin Kreutz: "We were able to run the ball because people are scared of Gross­man. Even when he's off, they still have to play coverage."
Watch highlights of the game ...


Lovie Smith

Deuce McAllister

Marques Colston

Rashied Davis

Michael Lewis

Brian Urlacher

Reggie Bush somersaults into end zone.

Bernard Berrian makes TD catch
around DB Fred Thomas.

Bears Celebrate Berrian's TD

Jamar Nesbit

Brad Maynard

Billy Miller

Muhsin Muhammad

Adewale Ogunleye after Brees

Rex Grossman celebrates Cedric Benson's fourth quarter touchdown.

Urlacher with NFC Championship Trophy


Hollis Thomas

Will Smith

Alex Brown

Olin Kreutz