Bears Take a Step Back, Prove No Match for Saints

Defense does its part but Mitchell Trubisky and the offense reverted to their early-season struggles in a 21-9 playoff defeat
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Faced with elimination in Sunday's playoffs against the highly favored New Orleans Saints, the Bears reverted to their true selves.

Their defense played for three quarters the way they had early in the season. So did Mitchell Trubisky and their offense.

The New Orleans Saints came away with a 21-9 victory, as the Bears pandemic season ended on Jimmy Graham's one-handed touchdown grab.

The Saints (13-4) moved on to a divisional playoff game against Tampa Bay while the Bears (8-9) are left to ponder if there are changes they can make to pull up from the middle of the NFL pack to a level closer to teams like the Saints.

"They’re tough, you know, in all three phases for us," Bears coach Matt Nagy said of New Orleans. "We just didn’t put it together and we know that we gotta be better and we gotta score more points."

They ran for only 48 yards and Trubisky completed 19 of 29 for 199 yards and a TD on the game's last play for 25 yards to Jimmy Graham. 

"Defensively, I thought our guys came out and fought," Nagy said. "We talked all week about getting the ball on the ground and turnovers, getting takeaways. You could feel the energy and juice on the sideline and so that part was good."

However, the offense vanished after a perfectly executed first-quarter flea flicker ended with wide-open receiver Javon Wims letting the ball slip through his hands in the end zone.

"It was a touchdown," Trubisky said. "You don’t get a lot of opportunities like that and get your guy pretty wide open behind the safety, a play we've been practicing for the last few weeks.

"I was excited coach got it called and that definitely would have helped early on getting us on the board and getting us some momentum."

The end seemed inevitable at that moment, and was.

Drew Brees and the Saints offense gradually picked away at the Bears defense turning a 7-3 halftime lead into a 14-3 edge on Latavius Murray's 6-yard TD catch in the third quarter, before locking it up on Alvin Kamara's 3-yard TD run in the fourth quarter.

Brees completed 28 of 39 for 265 yards while Kamara rushed for 99 yards.

The Saints crushed the Bears on third down on both sides of the ball. They were 11 of 17 while the Bears went 1-for-10.

"We didn’t execute," Trubisky said. "We didn’t put ourselves in a good position. We gotta get that running game going a little bit more so everyghing else can come off that. 

"You gotta give them credit—they came out and they played better than we did and they were the better team today."

The defense kept battling and refused to allow any points when the Saints had second-and-goal at the 2 in the fourth quarter, ultimately stuffing Brees on a fourth-and-1 sneak.

"We played a good game for most of the game, I think that was very competitive," defensive end Akiem Hicks said. "I think we were in it 85 percent of the game. I felt like we were right there on the cusp of switching the momentum and making another big play for us to come out on top. 

"But unfortunately that moment never came, right?"

The offense never had its moment until the game's final 99-yard drive to Graham's TD catch let them save face.

There was no saving face for Anthony Miller. The Bears needed his production with Darnell Mooney out injured. He chose instead to take a cheap shot at Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, who had fought with Wims in the previous Bears-Saints game.

The officials tossed Miller in the second quarter with the Bears down 7-3 and they were left trying to depend on Wims, little-used Riley Ridley and return man DeAndre Carter to complement Allen Robinson.

"So again it’s something where our guys, we’ve all got to understand we've got to be stronger and we can't have that happen, and we’ve got to understand that," Nagy said. "You're right; that's two times that that happened, and we just can’t have it."

Lack of discipline seemed a common theme all day for the Bears. 

The defense got whistled for three third-down offside penalties, another theme common in the early season. By and large it was the offense with the struggles, though.

Trubisky failed to get to the marker on a fourth-and-4 scramble once, they gave Ryan Nall a chance on a key third-and-2 run before halftime and he was stuffed.

"We shot ourselves in the foot a lot," Trubisky said. "I didn't think we played very smart tonight with the penalties, and it was just sloppy."

A season when the Bears found a way to recover from a six-game losing streak ended quietly.

"We showed some resilience and we bounced back, found a way to make it to the playoffs," tackle Charles Leno Jr. said. "Things just didn't go our way." 

The loss sends the Bears into an offseason when there may or may not be big decisions on either GM Ryan Pace,  or even Matt Nagy and members of his staff.

And then there will be huge choices to make on whether to sign Trubisky to a new deal or keep Robinson. 

"What we need to do is do everything we can to be able to win a Super Bowl," Nagy said. "That’s the goal. The goal's not to make the playoffs. "
"We've just gotta sit down and evaluate all that stuff, and we obviously know there's a lot of big decisions."

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