An anemic performance on offense and costly penalties on both sides of the ball were the main culprits in the Bears' 21-9 loss to the Saints in Sunday's Wild Card game in New Orleans.
Before their final possession against a prevent defense that was protecting a late 21-3 lead, the Bears had mustered just 140 yards and six first downs and were 0-of-9 on third down in the game. The nine points they scored Sunday was a season low.
The defense played well in the first half, holding the high-powered Saints to seven points. But New Orleans opened the second half with lengthy back-to-back touchdown drives, increasing a 7-3 halftime lead to 21-3.
The Saints controlled the ball and the clock on their two second-half TD drives, marching 85 yards on 12 plays in 7:29 and 64 yards on 15 plays in 8:51. New Orleans held a decisive edge in time of possession of 38:58-21:02 in the game, including 21:39-8:21 in the second half.
"In all three phases for us, we just didn't put it together," said coach Matt Nagy, "and we know that we've got to be better and we've got to score more points."
Jimmy Graham made a one-handed 19-yard touchdown catch from Mitchell Trubisky as time expired—and promptly ran immediately to the tunnel that leads to the locker room. The Bears' only TD of the game capped an 11-play, 99-yard drive that came after the defense had stopped Drew Brees on a quarterback sneak on fourth-and-goal from the 1.
Prior to their final drive, the Bears' best chance to score a touchdown came late in the first quarter on an impressive trick play from the Saints' 40. David Montgomery took a shotgun snap in the Wildcat formation and handed off to Cordarrelle Patterson, who pitched the ball back to Trubisky. The Bears quarterback heaved a perfect pass to a wide open Javon Wims. But Wims dropped the ball in the end zone.
"I'd be sitting here lying to you if I told you it didn't hurt," Nagy said. "That hurt. Against a team like this, when there's an opportunity to make [a play], you have to make that play, and Javon knows that."
Three plays after Wims dropped the sure touchdown pass, the Bears turned the ball over on downs when Trubisky was held to a two-yard rush on fourth-and-4 from the New Orleans 34.
After the Saints' Wil Lutz missed a 50-yard field goal attempt wide right, the Bears defense generated a key takeaway. Blitzing safety Tashaun Gipson Sr. hit Taysom Hill's arm as he was throwing a pass and defensive lineman John Jenkins caught the ball in the air at the Saints' 24.
The Bears' reached the 10, but rookie Cole Kmet drew a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty and they had to settle for Cairo Santos' 36-yard field goal, cutting the deficit to 7-3 with 8:06 left in the half.
Kmet appeared to be jawing with Malcolm Jenkins after being tackled by the Saints safety and then flipped the ball to an official. But the officials thought he was throwing it at Jenkins and penalized the Bears rookie.
New Orleans had taken a 7-0 lead on Brees' 11-yard touchdown pass to receiver Michael Thomas with 5:09 left in the first quarter. It was the first TD of the season for Thomas, who was limited to seven games due to an ankle injury.
The Saints widened the margin to 14-3 on Brees' 6-yard TD pass to running back Latavius Murray with 4:08 remaining in the third quarter. The drive was sustained by an offside penalty on safety Eddie Jackson on fourth-and-3 at the Bears' 13.
New Orleans increased its lead to 21-3 on Alvin Kamara's 3-yard TD run with 8:50 to play in the fourth quarter. Before Kamara's TD, Khalil Mack had sacked Brees for a 14-yard loss back to the Bears' 19 on second-and-goal. But the sack was nullified by a holding penalty on rookie cornerback Kindle Vildor. Two plays later, Danny Trevathan was flagged for pass interference in the end zone, resulting in a first down at the 1.
The penalties and other mistakes ended a roller-coaster season for the Bears. They opened 5-1, lost six straight games, rebounded to win three in a row, and then closed with disappointing losses to the NFC's top two playoff seeds, the Packers in last weekend's regular-season finale and the Saints in Sunday's Super Wild Card round.
See the game unfold through the lenses of our sideline photographers as the Bears face off against the Saints in New Orleans during Super Wild Card Weekend.