NFL Wire News

Saints respond to Payton’s tongue-lashing

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METAIRIE, La. — New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton had no way of knowing how his players would respond when he ripped into his team after a horrific 41-10 setback to the Carolina Panthers on Dec. 7.

But with their chances of winning the NFC South title slipping away, he took a chance and put it all out there in a postgame roasting in front of the media. That was followed over the next few days by roster moves and lineup changes, seemingly to prove that it wasn’t just for show.

When the Saints finally got on the field for Monday night’s game with the Chicago Bears in Soldier Field to close out Week 15, it was apparent Payton’s message came in loud and clear judging by the energy his team played with in a 31-15 victory.

It was most apparent in a retooled defense that played its best game of the season, pushing the Bears all around and setting the tone for an easy win that put the Saints back in first place in the division going into the final two games.

While the offense struggled a little bit on its first two possessions, the defense got a head start on a performance that eventually produced three interceptions of Jay Cutler, who was sacked seven times — season highs for the Saints’ defense in both categories.

The beleaguered defense featured a secondary that started the game without former first-round draft pick Kenny Vaccaro at strong safety, and two players — free safety Pierre Warren and cornerback Terrence Frederick — who weren’t even on the active roster five weeks ago.

Warren, an undrafted free agent who was cut by the Saints at the end of training camp, came up with his first two NFL interceptions and linebackers David Hawthorne (three) and Junior Galette (two) combined for five of the seven sacks to spark a first-half effort that held the Bears to 92 yards.

While Payton said energy wasn’t a particular topic during the week, it was vitally important for his defense.

“It was just that overall passion you have to play with on a down-to-down basis,” he said. “Our guys tackled well and did the things you have to do to play well.”

–The Saints’ defense played perhaps its best game of the season in a 31-15 victory over the Chicago Bears on Monday night.

The key was a pass rush that rattled Bears quarterback Jay Cutler into throwing interceptions when he wasn’t being sacked. He served up two first-half picks and three in all and was sacked seven times.

The seven-sack night was the most for the Saints since they dropped Michael Vick seven times in a 28-13 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles on Nov. 5, 2012. They last had three interceptions in a game on Sept. 30, 2013, in a blowout of the Miami Dolphins.

The last time the Saints had seven sacks and at least three takeaways in one game was Oct. 13, 2002, when they recorded seven sacks and forced five turnovers in a 43-27 win at the Washington Redskins.

REPORT CARD VS. BEARS

–PASSING OFFENSE: A-plus — After a tough outing one week earlier, Drew Brees was on target from the start against the Bears’ befuddled defense. Brees hit on 18 of 20 pass attempts for 226 yards and two touchdowns in the first half and had his way with the Bears when he wanted to in going 29-of-36 for 375 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions. He had a long of 39 yards and was sacked twice to compile a passer rating of 137.8. Four players had five catches each and all had at least 65 receiving yards led by tight end Jimmy Graham (87) and running back Pierre Thomas (83), who had gains of 31 and 39 yards on screens. Wideout Kenny Stills (67) and Marques Colston (65) rounded out the foursome. Colston had a 9-yard touchdowns catch, while reserve tight end Josh Hill added scores of 7 and 8 yards.

–RUSHING OFFENSE: C-plus — The Saints netted just 83 yards and a 3.2 average on 26 carries, but they really didn’t have to run it that much because the passing game was so efficient. Mark Ingram had a team-high 59 yards on 17 attempts and ran untouched for a 15-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter. Thomas had 11 yards on two carries and Khiry Robinson, who was returning from a forearm injury, netted 10 yards on three attempts.

–PASS DEFENSE: A-plus — Jay Cutler never had a chance against a rejuvenated Saints’ defense that intercepted him three times and recorded seven sacks. It didn’t help that Cutler didn’t have Brandon Marshall, but it might not have made much of a difference. He was 17-of-31 for 194 yards with two TDs and three picks — two by free safety Pierre Warren, who was playing in just his fourth NFL game. Inside linebacker David Hawthorne had three sacks and outside linebacker Junior Galette had a pair. Cornerback Keenan Lewis shadowed Cutler’s top target, Alshon Jeffery, and held him to four catches for 78 yards and a 7-yard TD pass with 30 seconds to play after he torched them for more than 200 yards last season.

–RUSH DEFENSE: C — All in all, it wasn’t a bad day for the Saints even though the stats showed the Bears rushing for 125 yards and a 6.3 average on 20 attempts. Forty-one of those yards came on two plays when Cutler was flushed from the pocket and picked up 20 yards and a reverse by wide receiver Josh Morgan gained another 21 yards. But the Saints did a decent job for the most part on Matt Forte, holding him to a long gain of 19 yards while he netted 78 yards on 16 attempts.

–SPECIAL TEAMS: B-minus — Thomas Morstead averaged 43.4 gross yards on five punts in tricky conditions that included wind and intermittent rain. The Saints had trouble on a 51-yard field-goal try by Shayne Graham in the first quarter as holder Luke McCown had the ball slip from his hand although they got a do-over because of offsetting penalties. On the second attempt, Graham appeared to slip and his kick was short and wide right, but he did make a 25-yarder later in the game. The Saints stopped a fake punt on fourth-and-3 at the Bears’ 39 in the second quarter and Jalen Saunders averaged 7.0 yards on three punt returns. While the Saints allowed no punt returns, the Bears averaged 27.0 yards on six kickoffs with a long of 40.

–COACHING: A — Give Sean Payton credit for not being afraid to shake up his slumping team after a 31-point loss the previous week to the Carolina Panthers. Payton benched strong safety Kenny Vaccaro, who did get to play in the nickel, and gave cornerback Terrence Frederick his first NFL start in a game the Saints had to have. Also, Marcus Ball got the start in place of Vaccaro and the result was an invigorated defense that held the Bears to 92 total yards in the first half and eventually sacked Jay Cutler seven times and had a season-high three interceptions.


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