‘You can’t have those issues’: Saints’ punt block sets tone vs. Bears
“I think the guys will be the first to tell you that we’ve gotta be a little more stout,” punter Pat O’Donnell said.
Bears punter Pat O’Donnell knew what he had to do: He had to beat a half-dozen Saints to the ball in the end zone.
O’Donnell had his first punt of the Bears’ debacle Sunday blocked. The ball bounced into the end zone, with a phalanx of Saints chasing after it. J.T. Gray, who had blocked the punt, slid after the ball and whiffed. O’Donnell slid, too, but while lying on the ground managed to bat the ball through the back of the end zone with his right arm.
It was a smart play, even if it gave the Saints a safety about 90 seconds into the game.
‘‘I was just thinking, ‘Bat it through the back,’ ’’ O’Donnell said. ‘‘We’ll take a safety over six points. It was one of those plays where you’ve just got to make the best of it.’’
Gray ran in untouched to block the punt, stunting from the left to rush between the Bears’ right guard and right tackle.
‘‘It was a ‘looper,’ ’’ O’Donnell said. ‘‘So he came free.’’
Saints coach Sean Payton said his team rushed eight men, though it wasn’t a called block play.
Bears coach Matt Nagy acknowledged the struggles of his punt team afterward.
‘‘Yeah, there’s issues, right?’’ he said. ‘‘So anytime you have that . . . you’ve got to fix it. You can’t have those issues.’’
The punt team had an eventful day.
‘‘I think the guys will be the first to tell you that we’ve gotta be a little more stout,’’ O’Donnell said.
In the second quarter, O’Donnell thought the Bears would benefit from a running-into-the-kicker penalty — the same one that might have cost them a victory Oct. 6 against the Raiders in London — but his punt was ruled to have been tipped, making contact with him legal.
The Bears also allowed a 67-yard punt return for a touchdown to Deonte Harris with 15 seconds left in the first half, only for it to come back because of a holding call on Saints fullback Zach Line.
‘‘I thought the call at the end of the first half on the punt return was terrible,’’ Payton said. ‘‘It should have been a touchdown.’’