Saints, Bears try to put chaos behind them
LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP) If the New Orleans Saints are looking for comfort, they can take some in this: Their week was almost smooth compared to their opponent's.
And unlike the Bears, they're still in the playoff hunt.
The Saints will try to shake off their most lopsided loss of the season and give their postseason hopes a boost when they visit Chicago on Monday night. It's a matchup between two of the league's most disappointing teams.
They come in with identical records (5-8) and are trying to put a difficult week behind them. The Saints got blasted 41-10 at home last week by Carolina. The Bears got hit with another round of turmoil, with offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer acknowledging he was a source behind a critical report by the NFL Network about quarterback Jay Cutler.
''Man, this is a humbling league,'' New Orleans coach Sean Payton said.
The Saints began the week tied for the NFC South lead with Atlanta - their next opponent - despite dropping four of five. They allowed 497 yards and got pounded by a Carolina team that came in with six straight losses.
Payton said during the week he would not rule out lineup changes, and safety Kenny Vaccaro said Thursday his role is changing. He would not say exactly how, and his coach offered few details.
Payton also made some roster changes this week, cutting receiver Joe Morgan on Tuesday and promoting receiver Seantavius Jones from the practice squad.
''A lot of it is the expectation that showing up and playing is enough,'' right tackle Zach Strief said. ''It's not: `OK, I put my uniform on, I look good, I walk out on the field and now that we're here and we're the Saints and we have this history where we'll win games, now we're just going to win this game.' ... That's not the reality of this league.''
For the Bears, this season has been one harsh reality check. They came in with visions of a playoff run, only to fall out of contention for the seventh time in eight years. The situation with Kromer was just another in a line of distractions.
He owned up in public to what he did on Friday after asking players and coaches for forgiveness on Monday.
That happened after he complained to the NFL Networks about Cutler's ability to audible out of run plays that might not work. The story also suggested the Bears had ''buyer's remorse'' for signing their quarterback to a contract extension after last season. But according to the Chicago Tribune, Kromer insisted in his apology to the team that he never mentioned that.
Kromer said he never considered quitting over this and coach Marc Trestman insisted he did not think about firing him. But the episode raised more questions about the leadership and the direction of the franchise in a season when there were already more than a few.
The Kromer situation was just another log in a fire that includes linebacker Lance Briggs missing practice to open a restaurant near Sacramento in the week leading up to the opener; defensive end Lamarr Houston suffering a season-ending injury celebrating a meaningless late sack at New England; and some eyebrow-raising incidents involving Brandon Marshall. Among them was a long, rambling news conference over past allegations of domestic abuse; flying to New York weekly to record Showtime's ''Inside The NFL'' program; and challenging a Detroit fan on Twitter to a boxing match for charity.
Kromer's leak cuts to one of Trestman's pillars, and that is building relationships based on trust. There appeared to be a breach even if Cutler insisted the offense came away from Monday's meeting in a better position.
''He owned up to it,'' Cutler said. ''He let everyone know, `Hey, I made a mistake. This is where we stand. And this is where we need to move on to.' I wish more guys were like that.''
He said the Bears have to ''continue on'' and that the offense ''will come together.''
But they have looked more like a broken bunch.
The Bears have been hit hard by injuries, with Briggs, Charles Tillman and Marshall among the key players on injured reserve. Chicago joined the 1923 Rochester Jeffersons as the only teams to give up 50 or more points in consecutive games when it got pounded by New England and Green Bay.
The struggles on defense and regression on offense have added up to the most disappointing season in recent memory.
''We know the (offensive) system works,'' Kromer said. ''It worked last year. And it's worked in the past in places both myself and Marc have been.''
Question is: Who will be around to fix the Bears after this season?
AP NFL websites: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP-NFL