Saints dominate Bears to take home opener

NEW ORLEANS — On their memorable run to a Super Bowl title in 2009, the New Orleans Saints did all the right things more often than not on offense, defense and special teams.

In their home opener Sunday, the Saints stared the Monsters of the Midway in the eye and didn’t blink in a dominating 30-13 victory over the Chicago Bears before 73,019 boisterous fans in the Superdome.

In putting together their most complete performance since a 17-14 win against the Atlanta Falcons in Week 16 last season, the Saints shook off any lingering effects from a 41-36 loss at Seattle in an NFC wildcard game last January and 42-34 setback at Green Bay in the season opener.

“You hate that feeling after the Seattle loss and last week,” said Drew Brees, who connected on 26 of 37 passes for 270 yards and had a 79-yard TD strike to wide receiver Devery Henderson among his three scoring passes. “We know the formula to winning games, and we showed that today.”

Did they ever.

The Saints’ offense piled up 382 total yards, the defense held the Bears to 246 yards — including just 81 after halftime — and the special teams fenced in dangerous kick returner Devin Hester in limiting him to 43 yards on three returns.

“They’re a great football team,” Brees said of the Bears, who played in the NFC Championship game last season and rocked the Falcons, 30-12, in their opener. “They have a formula for winning that has worked a long time. They thrive on getting turnovers and getting pressure on the quarterback.”

The Saints (1-1) borrowed their game plan on Sunday, sacking Bears quarterback Jay Cutler six times and using a third-quarter takeaway by defensive end Turk McBride to help them to the easy victory.

After the Bears (1-1) drove to a 38-yard Robbie Gould field goal on the first possession of the second half to trim the Saints’ 16-10 halftime lead three points, they seemed to be gaining momentum when the defense forced a three-and-out series.

On the Bears’ second play following a punt, however, McBride forced Cutler to fumble while sacking him and middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma recovered for the Saints’ first takeaway of the season at the Bears’ 29.

Five plays later, Brees threw the second of his three touchdown passes. A 4-yard flip to wide receiver Robert Meachem on third-and-goal extended their lead to 23-13 with 7:33 left in the third quarter.

“They got pressure on the quarterback,” Bears coach Lovie Smith said when asked how his team got out of sync offensively. “I mean, you can’t answer that in a couple of words. They made plays in crucial situations.”

After another big stop by the Saints’ defense, the offense cranked up a 14-play, 87-yard drive that was capped by a 12-yard pass from Brees to running back Darren Sproles for their final score with 12:05 remaining in the game.

After that, the Saints’ defense took over.

They teed off on Cutler play after play and dropped him three straight times to finish the game with six sacks before his final two pass attempts of a long afternoon fell incomplete.

Strong safety Roman Harper and defensive end Junior Galette recorded two sacks apiece, while McBride and weakside linebacker Jonathan Casillas had one each.

“That’s what we do,” Casillas said of the relentless pressure. “We got a lead early (16-7) and once we got the lead, we had them on their heels. We had to take advantage of that opportunity and (defensive coordinator) Gregg (Williams) kept dialing up the pressure. And we capitalized.”

After carving up the Falcons for 322 yards in the opener, Cutler completed just 19 of 45 passes for 244 yards and one touchdown. He lost 58 yards on the six sacks and had a passer rating of 67.3.

“It was a long day out there,” Cutler said. “I don’t know how many sacks I took, but I had to throw a lot of balls away before I wanted to. The Saints were the better team today. They rushed me hard and forced our offense to do things we didn’t want to.”

Most of the Bears’ offense came courtesy of Slidell native and former Tulane star running back Matt Forté. He had 118 of his team’s 165 yards in the first half and finished with 166 of their 246 total yards in the game.

Their only touchdown came on their second possession of the game when Cutler tossed an 8-yard pass over the middle to Dane Sanzenbacher with 6:55 to play in the first quarter.

But the Saints were too balanced on offense for the Bears, both running the ball and when Brees chose to spread it around.

They rushed for 118 yards on 29 carries as Mark Ingram and Pierre Thomas had 51 and 41 yards, respectively. Sproles caught eight passes for 43 yards, tight end Jimmy Graham had six receptions and Henderson finished with 103 yards on three catches.

They struggled a little bit early, but John Kasay kicked field goals of 31, 29 and 53 yards — all in the first half.

“Obviously, it was an important win for us,” Saints coach Sean Payton said. “I thought our energy and our effort overcame some of the early mistakes we made. As the game wore on, we started gaining the momentum and getting some pressure defensively.

“We had good balance (on offense) and made plays when we needed to.”