A lot has changed since the Bears last played the Saints on Nov. 1.
The Bears have a different starting quarterback, Mitch Trubisky, and some new offensive weapons — tight end Cole Kmet had five catches entering the first Saints game and 23 since. The Bears’ defense is worse — it allowed the seventh fewest points in the NFL entering Nov. 1, but ranks No. 14 heading into Sunday’s wild-card playoff game.
After watching the game film again, it’s clear the Bears still can learn from the 26-23 overtime loss in Week 8. Here are five lessons:
Beware of the two-minute drill
On third-and-13 with less than a minute left in the first half, the Saints ran a classic give-up play — a screen from quarterback Drew Brees to Alvin Kamara. The running back took it 12 yards and then converted a fourth-and-one run. With 18 seconds left in the first half, Brees threw an 18-yard touchdown to tight end Jared Cook to pull the Saints to within three.
Brees’ arm isn’t what it used to be — he averaged 4.7 air yards, the lowest of any NFL player in Week 8. But in a two-minute drill, there’s no one better. Since Brees and head coach Sean Payton first teamed up in 2006, no team has scored more points when starting a possession in the final two minutes of a half.
This year alone, the Saints scored six touchdowns — including the Cook catch — and three field goals in such situations.
They’ll need Anthony Miller
Trailing by three points and pinned at their own 34 with 1:37 to play, Nick Foles threw a fourth-down crossing route to Miller for 11 yards to keep the drive alive. The mercurial receiver made the catch of the game a minute later. On third-and-19 from the Saints’ 48 with 23 seconds left, Miller caught a 16-yard out route and stepped out of bounds to set up Cairo Santos’ 51-yard field goal that forced overtime.
Miller’s eight catches and 11 targets on Nov. 1 were season highs, and his 73 receiving yards were three short of his season-high.
Darnell Mooney’s ankle injury will force the Bears to lean more on the inconsistent Miller. In the last five games, Miller has appeared in less than half the Bears’ total offensive plays.
On third-and-10 during the Bears’ only overtime possession, Saints defensive end Trey Hendrickson lined up over left guard Rashaad Coward and sacked Foles, who rolled left and couldn’t find anyone open.
Hendrickson is one of the unheralded standout players in the NFL. A former third-round pick from FAU, Hendrickson has 13½ sacks and is tied with Aaron Donald for second most in the NFL.
The good news for the Bears: barring injury, Coward won’t play Sunday. In fact, only two offensive linemen will be in the same starting spots they were in in Week 8.
Watch the Saints’ injury report
Kamara, who had 96 rushing yards and 67 receiving, accounted for 41.4% of the Saints’ offense. He has the coronavirus but could return from the reserve/COVID-19 list Sunday. He won’t practice this week.
Receiver Michael Thomas, who didn’t face the Bears the last time, is on injured reserve with an ankle injury but could return. So could Deonte Harris, the star punt returner, who is on IR with a neck problem. Harris had a 42-yard punt return in Week 8. Earlier this year, Bears’ special teams coordinator Chris Tabor called the Saints “by far the best special teams unit in the league.”
Keep your cool
Receiver Javon Wims was thrown out of the previous meeting against the Saints for throwing haymakers at cornerback C.J. Gardner-Johnson, who earlier snatched the mouthpiece from Wims’ helmet.
Wims’ decision became even dumber when receivers coach Mike Furrey later revealed he told his receivers not to retaliate against Gardner-Johnson minutes before Wims did just that. The Bears must be smarter this time around.