October 27, 2010

1991: Saints Lose for First Time as Bears Score on Final Drive

The Chicago Bears were 5-2 as they traveled to New Orleans to take on the undefeated (7-0) Saints on October 27, 1991 at the Louisiana Superdome. The Bears were in their tenth season under the direction of fiery Head Coach Mike Ditka and were used to contending – since Ditka’s third season in 1984, they had only once had a losing season (or for that matter, failed to win at least 10 games), and that had been two years before, in 1989 when they were 6-10. They had bounced back to 11-5 in ’90 and had every expectation of dominating the NFC Central.

New Orleans, long an NFL bottom feeder, had begun to win in 1987 under the direction of Head Coach Jim Mora. The Saints had twice been in the playoffs, although with a mediocre 8-8 record in 1990. QB Bobby Hebert had returned after sitting out the ’90 season due to a contract dispute, and whether he or Steve Walsh, the previous year’s starter, was behind center, the team kept winning thanks to an outstanding defense – they had not allowed an opposing team to score in double digits since the second week of the season.

Neither team was able to muster much offense in the first few possessions until, late in the first quarter, Hebert threw a pass down the middle to WR Floyd Turner for a 65-yard touchdown. The Bears managed two field goals by Kevin Butler in the second quarter, of 34 and 48 yards, but had difficulty sustaining any sort of drive. New Orleans took a 10-6 advantage at halftime when Morten Andersen boomed a 60-yard field goal on the final play of the period.

Chicago QB Jim Harbaugh (pictured above) managed to complete just two of his 10 passes in the first half. The Saints had been far better at throwing the ball, but had gained just 16 yards on 10 rushing attempts.

The Bears got a break in the third quarter when New Orleans CB Vince Buck was called for pass interference, resulting in a 37-yard gain to the Saints nine yard line. Two plays later, RB Brad Muster ran six yards for a touchdown and Chicago was in the lead at 13-10.

Two possessions later, the Saints put together a 56-yard drive in six plays highlighted by a 34-yard pass completion from Hebert to Turner. An eight-yard touchdown pass to Turner put New Orleans back in front, 17-13.

Early in the fourth quarter, Butler missed a field goal attempt from 51 yards out. The Bears came no closer to scoring as the game progressed and they continued to struggle on offense against the fierce pass rush. With just under two minutes to go, they took over on their own 48 after a poor 12-yard punt by Tommy Barnhardt of the Saints. Even with the good field position, it seemed as though the New Orleans defense was in control – Harbaugh had failed to complete a pass in the second half and was now a combined two of 19.

However, the passing game suddenly came alive as Harbaugh immediately completed a throw to WR Wendell Davis for 27 yards to the New Orleans 25. RB Neal Anderson ran up the middle for seven yards, and then caught a pass from Harbaugh for six more. Finally, Harbaugh threw to WR Tom Waddle for a 12-yard touchdown and, with the successful extra point, a three-point lead.

The Saints were unable to come back in the final seconds – a fourth-and-16 pass from their own 21 fell incomplete and the Bears, stymied on offense for so much of the game, won by a score of 20-17.

New Orleans easily outgained Chicago, 313 yards to 178, including a net 262 passing yards compared to 36 for the Bears. Jim Harbaugh ended up with 5 completions in 22 attempts for 61 yards with the game-winning TD and two interceptions. Brad Muster led the running game with 57 yards on 10 carries, while Neal Anderson was right behind at 53 yards on 12 attempts. Three receivers accounted for all of the Bears’ pass receiving – Anderson and Tom Waddle (pictured at left) each caught two passes for 17 yards apiece, and Wendell Davis was the yardage leader on his lone 27-yard reception.

For the Saints, Bobby Hebert was successful on 27 of 39 passes for 291 yards with two touchdowns against one interception. Floyd Turner had a big day, catching 9 of those passes for 179 yards and both TDs. However, the running game never caught fire, as the team ran for a total of 51 yards on 23 carries – RB Gill Fenerty was the leader with 25 yards on 8 attempts.

The win over New Orleans was the second of an eventual five straight for the Bears on the way to an 11-5 record and second place finish in the NFC Central - it was good enough to secure a wild card spot in the postseason, although they lost to Dallas in the first round. The Saints, after the strong start, faltered in the second half of the season. They won their next two games but then dropped four straight and finished at 11-5, still good enough to win the NFC West although they fell to arch-rival Atlanta in the Wild Card playoff.