KICKING BUTT & TAKING NAMES: Saints Smack Bears and Send Message to NFL

Photo courtesy of the New Orleans Saints on

If the New Orleans Saints aren’t considered the NFL’s best team after their impressive 36-25  smackdown on the road yesterday over the Chicago Bears, it’s by no fault of their own.

The Black and Gold not only won their fifth straight game without starting QB Drew Brees, but they also managed to beat Chicago’s allegedly top-ranked defensive unit previously believed to be the League’s very best by putting up a season-high 36 points – all minus the services of superstar #1 RB Alvin Kamara, starting tight end Jared Cook, and wide receiver Tre’Quan Smith.

For the lack of a better term, it could be said that the Saints are “kicking butt and taking names”.

By doing so, they’ve sent a message now to the entire NFL, which is: they WILL be the team that every other team in the League will have to deal with if they want to get to Super Bowl LIV (54) next February — the very same Super Bowl that they plan on winning themselves.

New Orleans won for the fifth consecutive week with back-up QB Teddy Bridgewater under center, and once again the 26-year old gave a solid-if-not-spectacular performance. That, coupled with yet another suffocating and dominant performance by their defense for the first three and a half quarters of the contest, allowed them to improve their win-loss record to 6-1 on the regular season, and take a game and a half lead in the NFC South Division over the idle 4-2 Carolina Panthers, who were on their Bye Week yesterday.

But perhaps most importantly: the Saints won for the third straight game on the road, and did so in one of the NFL’s most hostile environments – Chicago’s venerable Soldier Field stadium, in front of a rabid crowd of 62,000-plus faithful Bears fans that were figuratively “out for blood.”

After a tight back-and-forth struggle in the 1st half that saw New Orleans go into halftime clinging to a slim 12-10 lead, they broke the game wide open in the 3rd quarter and went on to score an unanswered 24 points to eventually take a commanding 36-10 lead midway through the 4th Quarter.

The Bears would go on to score two late touchdowns in what’s known as “garbage time,”  with only a few minutes left remaining to give visiting Who Dats in the stands (as well as millions of nervous Saints fans at home), a bit of uneasiness. But in the end, the Black and Gold ultimately prevailed and showed everyone that they mean serious business.

With Brees possibly returning to the starting line-up as soon as next Sunday when the Saints host the Arizona Cardinals at home in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, the message that New Orleans is now sending to every single one of the NFL’s other 31 teams is loud and clear: dismiss us or at your peril.

“This division (NFC North) is known as the black and blue division,” Bridgewater said to the media in the team’s post-game press conference. “They (Chicago) take pride in being the most physical team and running the football. I told the guys it was going to be a physical game and our guys were the most physical team. I say the message was received well.” Bridgewater then added: “This team knows how to survive and that’s what it’s all about”.

That was a sentiment echoed by 7th-year veteran offensive left tackle Terron Armstead.  “I think this is one of my favorite wins in my career. Just the circumstances, the way the game played out, the energy, the way we went out and won — it was a fun game, a hard-fought game.”

Fourth-year veteran defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins agreed with Armstead’s assessment and noted in the locker room that he and his defensive teammates have taken it upon themselves to ensure that the team remains successful with Brees still recovering from a torn thumb ligament that he suffered in Week #2 during the Saints’ only loss of the season so far, against the Los Angles Rams.

“We take a backseat to nobody. We love our Hall of Fame quarterback, we love Teddy, we love Mike T., we love Alvin and all those guys. But at the end of the day, we’re always gonna put it on our shoulders.”

And put it on their shoulders they did, as Saints defensive coordinator Dennis Allen‘s unit shut down what can only be described as a struggling and inept Bears offense led by QB Mitch Trubisky. Out of their first 11 offensive possessions, New Orleans only allowed three of those Chicago drives to last longer than three plays before forcing them to punt.

Early in the 3rd Quarter, the Saints defense had only allowed 65 yards passing and 17 yards rushing for 82 total yards of offense. The Bears’ only score up to that point came on a 1st quarter 102-yard kickoff return by speed demon/wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson.

And the Saints were just as efficient in their play on offense, gaining 424 total yards against that previously-feared Bears defense. Bridgewater completed 23 of 38 passes for 281 yards and two TDs, while RB Latavius Murray (subbing for the injured Kamara) rushed for 119 yards on 27 carries, and added another five catches out of the backfield for an additional 35 receiving yards. Starting #1 Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas caught nine passes on the day for 131 yards receiving and helped the Saints offense eventually wear out a visibly-tired Chicago secondary.

But the biggest takeaway, by far, was the superb coaching effort of  Saints head coach Sean Payton — who now has to be considered the leading candidate to be chosen 2019 NFL Coach of the Year. “We feel like there’s more out there,” Payton said in regard to what still lies ahead for the team going forward.

“Sean thrives off the adversity,” said Rankins. “He thrives off the naysayers. He thrives off people counting us out saying we can’t do it without Drew or we can’t do it without Alvin. That’s him.”

And thrive is exactly what the Saints did.

Now they’ll return home next Sunday to face a red-hot Arizona team that has won their last three games in a row themselves, and will be seeking to upset the Black and Gold behind new rookie sensation and Cardinals starting #1 QB Kyler Murray. But make no mistake about this much: no matter who is playing in the line-up for the Saints, Arizona had best bring their “A-game” to the Superdome, if they hope to have any chance of slowing down what many analysts and observers this morning are arguably calling the NFL’s top team.

The Saints still have a few deficiencies that they need to get fixed — most notably on special teams — but given yesterday’s overall performance as an entire team, you’d be hard-pressed to argue that the Black and Gold aren’t one of the League’s “elite” teams, alongside the only two undefeated teams: the 6-0 New England Patriots and the 6-0 San Francisco 49ers (who the Saints will play at the Superdome later this season during the 1st week of December).

New Orleans is now one of only three 1-loss teams remaining in the NFL, along with the 6-1 Green Bay Packers and the 5-1 Buffalo Bills. But for now, their focus will remain on the next opponent, when the Cardinals fly into New Orleans for a regionally-televised 12:00 p.m. noon kick-off on FOX (the game can be seen on WVUE-TV FOX Channel 8).

And a razor-sharp focus at that— one which has allowed them in the last 5 games without Drew Brees — to continue “kicking butt and taking names”.

Barry Hirstius is a semi-retired journalist, who has worked as a sports editor and columnist. Barry is a New Orleans native who grew up as a fan of the Saints while attending games as a young boy at the old Tulane Stadium. He is the proud Grandfather of two beautiful young girls, Jasmine and Serenity. Follow him on Twitter: @BarryHirstius

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