Monday, January 22, 2007

NFC Championship: Bears 39, Saints 14

The Saints march back to New Orleans with nothing to be ashamed of despite the 25 point ass-kicking administered by the Bears yesterday.

From 3-13 to the NFC Championship Game in one year. From road warriors to winning a home playoff game. From the nation's vagabonds to America's Team. This Saints team did so much for so many people in such a short period of time than hundreds of millions of uncharted federal funds could in a decade.

That being said they really laid an enormous stink bomb on the slippery turf of Soldier Field.

How bad were the Saints? Let me count the ways:

4- the number of turnovers the Saints committed (3 fumbles, 1 INT), also the number of fumbles they had (they recovered one.) Drew Brees fumbled twice, recovering one, while Marques Colston & kick returner Michael Lewis fumbled as well. What's the old saying? Repeat after me folks: YOU CAN'T WIN IN THE PLAYOFFS IF YOU GIVE THE BALL AWAY.

196- the amount of rushing yards allowed by New Orleans. Thomas Jones gashed them for 123 yards on just 19 carries (6.5 YPC) and two scores and Cedric Benson bludgeoned them for 60 yards on 24 attempts and a score. Jones had an incredible 1-man drive where he carried all 8 times for all 69 yards ending in his 2-yard touchdown.

56- number of rushing yards the Saints had after gaining 208 yards on the ground last week against the Eagles. Deuce McAllister had 143 yards on 21 carries in that game; yesterday he was held to 18 yards on 6 carries. Can you say "stop the run", anyone?

14 + 1- the number of touches Reggie Bush had (7 receptions, 4 rushes, 3 punt returns) plus the number of idiotic, immature, foolish, egotistical, and unnecessary taunts he turned in. Reg, we know you have talent and we know it gets frustrating when it takes you 10, 15, or 20 plays to rip off a big gain in the NFL where in college it only took 3 or 4, but listen up kid: when you are losing on the scoreboard you do not show up the other team with a child-like taunt that can only serve the purpose of firing the other team up and making yourself look bad. Even if you just made an awesome 88-yard catch and score.
"Go ahead, taunt me again Bush and I'll slam the friggin' Halas trophy over your puny head"

0-10- that's the record of the last 10 dome teams to go on the road outdoors in a Championship game. The weather definitely played a factor in this game no matter what anybody says. The field was like a Slip-n-Slide from the start and only got worse as the snow fell. Freezing temps and blustery conditions do not favor an indoor club no matter how much it practices outside and the Saints inability to hold onto the rock was a direct result of the weather.

All of that added up to one lousy game for the boys from the bayou.
Things started off badly but could have been worse for New Orleans. Despite three first quarter fumbles and a complete inability to move the ball the Saints were down only 16-0 as halftime approached thanks to Chicago's inability to put the ball in the end zone; despite several long drives Jones' 69-yard solo effort was the only time the Bears could muster more than a field goal.

When New Orleans put a touchdown on the board before the half it was a confidence booster for the team and rookie receiver Marques Colston especially. Colston was responsible for one fumble and numerous drops and slips in the half but made a spectacular grab over the middle for 29 yards in which he caught the ball by reaching around linebacker Brian Urlacher and then capped the 3-yard drive with a 13-yard TD reception on a pretty slant play.

That score cut the lead to 16-7 at the half and gave the Saints, and the rest of America discounting the Windy City and legions of Bears fans worldwide, new hope. It seemed as if the Bears were throttling the Saints into the mushy turf, yet here they were only down 9 with a whole half to go. Hmmmm.

That hope turned into cockiness shortly after halftime when Bush caught a fly ball from Brees about 10 yards from the line of scrimmage and raced 88 yards to the end zone, juking & sidestepping tacklers along the way and then waving at a pursuing Urlacher from about the 20 and culminating his romp with a somersault into the end zone and a little dance. Way to act like you been there, dude (note to Reggie: NEVER taunt Brian Urlacher. Ever.)

The breathtaking touchdown and extracurricular ending (which should have drawn a taunting flag but didn't- if that wasn't taunting there is no such thing) drew the Saints to within 2 at 16-14 and drew the ire of the crowd as it appeared as though the late season sputtering of Chicago's defense was rearing its ugly head again.

Little did anyone know that would be the last points the high-powered Saints would score as the Bears D, perhaps inspired by Mr. Bush's little antics, would go on to stifle any and every New Orleans drive for the rest of the day amidst the blowing flurries inside the old stadium by the lake.

But Chicago wasn't done scoring-not by a long shot. As if Bush's taunts awoke a hibernating beast the Bears tacked on a safety (the first in Championship game history) when Brees was called for intentional grounding in the end zone, then scored three touchdowns in the 4th quarter on a 33-yard reception by Bernard Big Play Berrian, a 12-yard run from Benson and Jones capping the scoring with a 15-yard score shortly after the Saints failed on a 4th & 13 from their 30.
See Reggie, we can taunt, too. And we're actually winning

Lights out, party's over, clean up the mess on your way out.

So the Saints miraculous, karma-fueled and nationally supported run to immortality came to a sobering halt on the field in Chicago. The team that meant so much more than wins and losses to a region was stopped short of reaching their ultimate goal.

But they entertained plenty of people along the way.

As for Chicago they are one step away from wiping the mantra of "the '85 Bears were the best team ever" off the lips of millions of Bears fans from Lake Charles to Lake Okeechobee. Rex Grossman is going to the Super Bowl with a chance to throw the critics off his back once and for all- hold on a second, REX FREAKING GROSSMAN IS GOING TO THE SUPER BOWL????!!! RUN FOR YOUR LIVES!!!!!

Sorry, just realized the enormity of that statement. The Year of the Gator continues.

Where was I, oh yeah, the big game features the first match up of African American coaches in a Super Bowl history with Tony Dungy taking on former protege Lovie Smith. The fact that the coaches just happen to be best friends and former members of the Yuccaneer coaching staff makes it all the sweeter for having waited so long for this day to come, and not even a week after MLK Day.
Redemption song indeed.

I want to say congrats to my good friends & Bear fans Doug & Melissa (and their cub, Henry), Walleye and Bob & Barb's family in Chicago, Gene & Jake and most of all Barb, who knew all along that the power of Chicago Bob's memory has been guiding this team from the start.

Good luck guys, and may the force of Bubba be with you.

No comments: