September 22, 2011

2002: Saints Come From 20 Points Down to Beat Bears

The Week 3 matchup between the New Orleans Saints and Chicago Bears on September 22, 2002 featured two teams that had gotten off to 2-0 starts. The Bears, coming off a 13-3 season in ’01 under Head Coach Dick Jauron, had a conservative offense led by QB Jim Miller, a competent game manager, and RB Anthony Thomas, the NFC’s top offensive rookie in 2001. The defense had been top-ranked in the league and featured a solid line, star MLB Brian Urlacher, and CB R.W. McQuarters and FS Mike Brown in the backfield.

New Orleans, on the other hand, had been 7-9 in 2001 after going to the postseason in 2000. Coached by Jim Haslett, the Saints dealt away RB Ricky Williams, who never quite lived up to the heavy price of an entire slate of draft picks to obtain him in 1999, and RB Deuce McAllister had emerged in his place. The mobile and hard-throwing Aaron Brooks (pictured above) directed the attack at quarterback.

There were 63,216 fans present at Memorial Stadium of the University of Illinois, which was serving as home for the Bears while Soldier Field underwent a complete overhaul. They saw the Bears get the first break of the day when McAllister fumbled at midfield and LB Bryan Knight recovered for Chicago. The Bears drove to the New Orleans 13 yard line in 10 plays and Paul Edinger kicked a 31-yard field goal for a 3-0 lead.

On the third play of the Saints’ next possession, Brooks was intercepted by CB Reggie Austin, again near midfield. Thomas ran the ball four straight times, including a 24-yard gain to the 15 yard line, and Miller completed a 10-yard touchdown pass to WR Dez White. The score stood at 10-0 after one quarter.

Early in the second quarter, the Bears scored again when a six-play, 56-yard drive ended with Miller throwing to WR Marty Booker for a 22-yard TD. The Saints turned the ball over once again, with Brooks fumbling and Knight recovering for the second time for Chicago. With the ball at the New Orleans 27, the Bears seemed well positioned to deliver a killing blow, but had to settle for another Edinger field goal, this time from 25 yards. Still, Chicago led by 20-0 with just under twelve minutes remaining in the first half.

The New Orleans offense responded by coming alive on a nine-play possession that included six straight pass completions by Brooks. He threw to WR Jerome Pathon for a 16-yard touchdown that finally got the Saints on the board. On the ensuing kickoff, it was Chicago’s turn to hurt itself with a turnover as RB Leon Johnson fumbled and the Saints recovered at the Bears’ eight. Two plays later, Brooks ran for a seven-yard touchdown and the once-imposing margin was down to six points at 20-14.

In the third quarter, New Orleans took the kickoff and methodically drove 65 yards in 12 plays that featured a 24-yard completion from Brooks to Pathon along the way and ended with Brooks tossing a five-yard touchdown pass to WR Joe Horn. John Carney’s extra point was good, and the Saints took the lead at 21-20. The teams traded punts until early in the fourth quarter, when Edinger capped a 70-yard drive with a 25-yard field goal that put the Bears back in front at 23-21.

The teams again traded punts and, with the clock down to 3:21 in the game, the Saints took over at their 27. Brooks completed all four of his passes and ran for 14 yards as New Orleans went 73 yards in 7 plays, ending with WR Donte’ Stallworth pulling in a pass for a 29-yard touchdown, and retook the lead.

Chicago still had over a minute to work with, and Miller passed the team down the field, including completions of 19 yards to Booker and 20 to White. But with a second down at the New Orleans 18, his pass to the goal line was intercepted by safety Sammy Knight to nail down the 29-23 win for the Saints.

The Bears outgained New Orleans (353 yards to 302) and also had more first downs (21 to 18). The Saints even gave up more turnovers with three to Chicago’s two and were penalized ten times.

Aaron Brooks completed 22 of 34 passes for 233 yards with three touchdowns and one interception; he also ran the ball seven times for 28 yards and a TD. Joe Horn caught 6 passes for 42 yards and a score while Jerome Pathon (pictured at left) gained 71 yards on his 5 catches, also including a touchdown. Deuce McAllister was held to 45 yards rushing on 17 carries and grabbed four passes for 42 more.

For the Bears, Jim Miller went to the air 40 times, with 26 completions for 236 yards that included two TDs against one that was picked off. Anthony Thomas ran for 111 yards on 27 attempts. Marty Booker caught 8 passes for 97 yards and a touchdown.

“It's tough when you're down 20-0, especially in the NFL,” Aaron Brooks said. “We were lucky we didn't get blown out. We could have been down 28-0 at the half.”

“We came in at halftime down 20-14 and the guys knew we were going to win the game,” added Coach Haslett.

The Saints lost to Detroit the next week but won three more in a row to peak at 6-1 before going 3-6 the rest of the way. They finished in third place in the NFC South at 9-7 and just missed the postseason. The loss to New Orleans was the first of eight strait for Chicago. The injury-riddled Bears ended up a poor third in the NFC North at 4-12.

Aaron Brooks tied for second in the league in touchdown passes with 27, but also was sacked 36 times, which tied for the fourth most, and was prone to inconsistency. Deuce McAllister led the NFC by rushing for 1388 yards on 325 carries and scored a total of 16 TDs (13 rushing, 3 receiving).

Jim Miller (pictured below) suffered through shoulder and knee injuries and played in just ten games, with Chris Chandler taking over until he, too, was lost - inexperienced Henry Burris finished off the dismal season. Miller ended up passing for 1944 yards with 13 touchdowns and 9 interceptions and was waived afterward, essentially marking the end of his NFL career (he was a backup for three more teams, but never appeared in another regular season game) in which he demonstrated great toughness, if not much savvy. Anthony Thomas slumped badly as the season progressed and then was sidelined by a broken finger after rushing for 721 yards while averaging 3.4 yards per attempt. “The A-Train” bounced back with a 1024-yard campaign in 2003.