I'm feeling pretty good about the Saints, even though they're down 6-0. Reason: three fumbles, and only six points off turnovers. Thank you, Rex Grossman, for overthrowing a wide open receiver in the end zone, for nearly throwing a pick.
No thanks, refs, for ruling "fumble" on an obvious down-by-contact situation.
No thanks, Dodge, for continuing to run that obnoxious-the-first-time Rock-em-Sock-em Robots commercial. I hate you and will never purchase a Dodge. Not ever.
No thanks, Chicago, for your crappy, crappy turf. It caused slipping and injuries last week, and this week it's just as slick.
If Grossman can get the Bears within field goal range on each drive, and if the Saints can't punt it past the 50, it might be enough, as the Saints offense keeps misfiring. (Brees actually looks stronger on his throws, but a few key slips by his receivers have been crucial.) Grossman's line: 3-11, 37 yards (all on one good pass). 9-0, Bears. Still anyone's game. Grossman hasn't given up a big pick yet, and he's sure to.
A better series for the Saints, inasmuch as the Bears aren't starting at midfield after taking over. Difference between Brees and Grossman: Brees can run under pressure. If the Saints are gonna win this, McAllister needs more touches.
Jones, Jones, Jones. Hey Bears: why were you running Cedric Benson? This Jones guy is untouchable, almost. What a stiff-arm on that 33-yard run. Hello, Bears? Don't you remember last week? Go with the guy who got you twelve. Points, that is.
Cedric Benson on the "Power O": denied. Thomas Jones on the Power O: TD. Maybe it's a brilliant rope-a-dope strategy by Lovie Smith. (It also neutralizes Rex Grossman--he can't hurt his team when he's not throwing the ball.)
Why I'm still confident in the Saint? Drew Brees. It took him 1:10 to lead New Orleans down the field for a TD. Perfect passes, a perfect hurry-up offense. If this game is close, look for Tom Brady--er, Drew Brees to win it. 16-7, Chicago, :46 to go.
The Bears wisely play it safe at the end of the first half, protecting a lead that all of a sudden looks pretty svelte. Forget what I said about Deuce McAllister: on their scoring drive, the Saints passed it on every play, spreading the field and exposing the (massive) gaps in the zone. (On the TD, did you notice that the Bear defender nearly fell down? Thank God the Super Bowl is in Florida.)
Reggie Bush is faster than anyone else on the field, and it's almost embarrassing to watch him gallop 88 yards to the end zone. But the dive, Reggie--why provoke? Thou shalt not excessively celebrate. Saints are down 2, and looking gooooood.
It's All Saints Quarter, as Drew Brees is stepping up in the pocket and evading the pressure, hitting a few key short screens and passes as snow falls. Couldn't quite finish it, though, so Billy Cundiff gets the call to finish the drive. No good. Saints down two.
Chicago plays: 1. Rex Grossman miss. 2.Cedric Benson loss. 3. Grossman short, too short, to Berrian. Punt. (Heck of a punt, but remember what happened last time the Saints were pinned deep? Reggie Bush, touchdown. As an aside, I've graded all the vocab quizzes. On to the essays.)
Lovie Smith: rope-a-dope, or just a dope?
Or a safety. Oops. (Devin Hester, who muffed several punts last week, holds on, but isn't looking like much of a game breaker today.) Saints down by four.
What is this? 1. Benson short run. 2. Benson loss. 3. Grossman incomplete (hold declined). Tell me Lovie Smith is holding his aces.
And all of a sudden the sky broke open, a trumpet sounded, and Rex Grossman the Good descended from on high to lead the Bears downfield, to rally the defense, and to give legs to Cedric Benson the Lame. Children flocked to him, women clutched at him, men stared at him in loathsome envy. On the sideline, Drew Brees wept, tears falling like sloppy snowflakes in the Chicago sky. Bears 32, Saints 14.
Turnovers. Three by the Saints, and none by Chicago, and this is where Grossman's play was better than it looked statistically. He might have thrown away a few passes and luckily avoided a couple picks, but them's the breaks. Brees threw it away in the end zone. Brees fumbled in the pocket, leading to the latest TD. It's a three score game, and all of a sudden the Saints look out of gas.
I'd bet $5 that the Tuesday Morning Quarterback will pencil in the Reggie Bush dive as the point that the football gods decided to smite the Saints. Update: It's the point, but not because of the dive, says TMQ. It was the taunt.
How quickly the game can turn. The Saints looked splendid in the middle third. of the game--but then only a few miscues later, the Bears turned on the running game, Grossman hit a few key passes, and the Saints offense imploded. When I picked the Saints to win it, I did so ignorant of history--no dome team has ever won in a wintry open-air stadium in the NFC championship--but until late in the third quarter, the weather didn't seem to matter much.
Blame this one on turnovers, sure... but the really decisive factor was the kicking game. The Bears got consistently good field position on offense, and kept the Saints pinned at the other end, especially once Brees started choking. The Saints missed their only field goal attempt and muffed a couple punts and a kickoff. Hester held on to the football, and Lewis couldn't get anywhere for New Orleans.
Meanwhile, grading is almost done. Up next: Patriots and Colts. I called this one for New England, but I won't watch it. That's jinx enough for one day.
Okay. Looking at the ESPN recap, I notice an amazing statistic: Deuce and Reggie combined for 10 carries. Drew Brees attempted 49 passes. If you're that out of balance, no wonder you get stuffed by Chicago's D.