Final
  for this game

Saints in NFC championship game for first time

Jan 21, 2007 - 5:28 PM New Orleans (11-6) at Chicago (14-3) 3:00 pm EST

CHICAGO (Ticker) -- Sean Payton and Drew Brees have helped the New Orleans Saints enjoy the finest season in their 40-year history. Lovie Smith has become the most beloved coach in the Windy City since Mike Ditka.

Seventeen months after being displaced by Hurricane Katrina, the second-seeded Saints will meet the top-seeded Bears in the NFC championship game on Sunday.

The winner will face either the Indianapolis Colts or New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLI in Miami on February 4.

Who could have predicted the Saints would be in this position after finishing 3-13 last season? The future of the franchise was up in the air due to the damage caused by the worst storm in American history.

But the Saints came marching back to New Orleans with a new coach, a new quarterback and a Heisman Trophy-winning back. They now appear to be the team of destiny after winning the NFC South with a 10-6 record and beating the Philadelphia Eagles, 27-24, in the divisional playoffs.

Payton, the NFL Coach of the Year, overhauled the roster, shipping out more than a dozen former starters, and convinced general manager Mickey Loomis to sign Brees, who was a question mark after undergoing offseason shoulder surgery.

All Brees did was lead the NFL with 4,418 passing yards and finish second in the MVP voting to running back LaDainian Tomlinson of San Diego.

Reggie Bush fell into the Saints' laps with the No. 2 pick in last April's draft after the Houston Texans unexpectedly passed on the Heisman Trophy winner. Bush set an NFL record for rookie running backs with 88 catches for 742 yards.

And the Saints also got a major contribution from their last pick in the draft - wide receiver Marques Colston. The 252nd overall selection, Colston caught 70 passes for 1,038 yards and four touchdowns.

It is simply one of the greatest stories in the history of the NFL. A downtrodden franchise rises from the ashes of a decimated city and reaches the conference championship game. Will the road eventually lead to a Super Bowl?

"Anyone can say they're a team of destiny," Bears wide receiver Rashied Davis said of the Saints. "But only destiny knows what team it wants."

The Bears are a different story. They have won nine NFL championships, including a Super Bowl title in 1985 under Ditka.

Chicago has won back-to-back division titles under Smith, who has a chance to become the first black coach to reach the Super Bowl. He already is the first coach since Ditka in 1988 to guide the Bears to the NFC title game.

"This is the first time two black men have led their teams to the final four," Smith said in reference to himself and coach Tony Dungy, who directed the Indianapolis Colts to the AFC championship game. "I realize the responsibility that comes with that."

Smith was the defensive coordinator for the St. Louis Rams in 2001 when they reached the Super Bowl and lost to New England, 20-17. Payton was the offensive coordinator when the New York Giants made the Super Bowl in 2000 and lost to Baltimore, 34-7.

Under Payton's direction, the Saints ranked first in the NFL in offense and fifth in scoring (25.8 points per game). They will face off against the stingiest defense in the NFC (15.9 ppg).

Pro Bowl linebackers Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs headline that defense, which slipped considerably in the last month of the season. The Bears yielded an average of nearly 23 points and 365 total yards in their last six regular-season games.

Last week in the divisional playoffs, the Bears yielded 306 yards in a 27-24 overtime win over the Seattle Seahawks.

This Sunday, Urlacher and Briggs will try to contain Bush and 1,000-yard rusher Deuce McAllister.

It was McAllister who sparked the Saints to a 27-24 win over Philadelphia, rushing for 143 yards and a touchdown and catching a scoring pass.

Chicago will need Rex Grossman to be effective against the Saints, who ranked 23rd in the league against the run and third against the pass.

Grossman has caused plenty of angst in Chicago due to his propensity to commit turnovers. During the regular season, he was intercepted 20 times and lost five fumbles. But Grossman also threw for 3,193 yards and 23 touchdowns.

The Rex Factor was certainly a positive for the Bears last week even with two turnovers - one interception and a fumble. Grossman overshadowed that by passing for 282 yards, including a 68-yard touchdown to Bernard Berrian in the win over Seattle.

Robbie Gould kicked a 49-yard field 4:58 into overtime after Grossman completed a 30-yard pass to Davis. The Pro Bowler had tied the game with a 41-yard field goal that snuck just inside the left upright with 4:24 left in regulation.

Gould kicked a 28-yard field goal with six seconds left to lead the Bears to a 20-17 win over the Saints at Baton Rouge on November 6, 2005.

The starting quarterbacks in that game were Kyle Orton for the Bears and Aaron Brooks for the Saints.

Chicago rushed for 183 yards. Cedric Benson led the way with 79 yards on just 14 carries and Thomas Jones added 40 yards on 11 carries.








  • NFC CHAMPIONSHIP
    NFL NFC CHAMPIONSHIP
    FINAL 1ST 2ND 3RD 4TH TOTAL
    --- --- --- --- -----
    NEW ORLEANS 0 7 7 0 14
    CHICAGO 3 13 2 21 39 FINAL
    SCORING SUMMARY
    1ST QUARTER: CHI - FG, ROBBIE GOULD 19 YD, 14:19. Drive:
    11 plays, 34 yards in 4:44. Key
    plays: Vasher 14-yard fumble return
    to New Orleans 36; Davis 16-yard
    run on 3rd

    Jan 21 6:18 PM



  • TD CHI THOMAS JONES RECOVERED BLOCKED PUNT IN END ZONE (ROBBIE GOULD KICK)






    Saints vs. BearsJan 21 6:05 PM



  • TD CHI THOMAS JONES RECOVERED BLOCKED PUNT IN END ZONE (ROBBIE GOULD KICK)






    Saints vs. BearsJan 21 6:05 PM


  • NFC CHAMPIONSHIP
    NFL NFC CHAMPIONSHIP
    TD CHI
    THOMAS JONES RECOVERED BLOCKED PUNT IN END ZONE
    (ROBBIE GOULD KICK)
    NEW ORLEANS 14
    CHICAGO 39 4:19 LEFT, 4TH QTR

    Saints vs. BearsJan 21 6:05 PM



  • TD CHI CEDRIC BENSON 12 YD RUN (ROBBIE GOULD KICK)

    Ogunleye recovers Brees' fumble at New Orleans 26.







    Saints vs. BearsJan 21 5:51 PM



  • TD CHI CEDRIC BENSON 12 YD RUN (ROBBIE GOULD KICK)

    Ogunleye recovers Brees' fumble at New Orleans 26.







    Saints vs. BearsJan 21 5:51 PM


  • NFC CHAMPIONSHIP
    NFL PLAYOFFS
    NEW ORLEANS 14
    CHICAGO 32 11:33 LEFT, 4TH QTR
    NOR BALL ON NOR 26 YD LINE
    1ST AND 10

    Saints vs. BearsJan 21 5:48 PM


  • NFC CHAMPIONSHIP
    NFL PLAYOFFS
    NEW ORLEANS 14
    CHICAGO 25 14:19 LEFT, 4TH QTR
    NOR BALL ON NOR 28 YD LINE
    1ST AND 10

    Saints vs. BearsJan 21 5:35 PM


  • NFC CHAMPIONSHIP
    NFL NFC CHAMPIONSHIP
    END, 3RD QTR 1ST 2ND 3RD 4TH TOTAL
    --- --- --- --- -----
    NEW ORLEANS 0 7 7 14
    CHICAGO 3 13 2 18 END, 3RD QTR
    SCORING SUMMARY
    1ST QUARTER: CHI - FG, ROBBIE GOULD 19 YD, 14:19. Drive:
    11 plays, 34 yards in 4:44. Key
    plays: Vasher 14-yard fumble return
    to New Orleans 36; Davis 16-yard
    run

    Jan 21 5:30 PM



  • SAFETY CHI PENALTY ON DREW BREES IN END ZONE





    Saints vs. BearsJan 21 5:21 PM


  • NFC CHAMPIONSHIP
    NFL NFC CHAMPIONSHIP
    SAFETY CHI
    PENALTY ON DREW BREES IN END ZONE
    NEW ORLEANS 14
    CHICAGO 18 5:27 LEFT, 3RD QTR

    Saints vs. BearsJan 21 5:21 PM



  • TD NOR REGGIE BUSH 88 YD PASS FROM DREW BREES (JOHN CARNEY KICK)







    Saints vs. BearsJan 21 4:58 PM



  • TD NOR REGGIE BUSH 88 YD PASS FROM DREW BREES (JOHN CARNEY KICK)







    Saints vs. BearsJan 21 4:58 PM



  • TD NOR REGGIE BUSH 88 YD PASS FROM DREW BREES (JOHN CARNEY KICK)







    Saints vs. BearsJan 21 4:58 PM



  • TD NOR REGGIE BUSH 88 YD PASS FROM DREW BREES (JOHN CARNEY KICK)







    Saints vs. BearsJan 21 4:58 PM



  • TD NOR REGGIE BUSH 88 YD PASS FROM DREW BREES (JOHN CARNEY KICK)







    Saints vs. BearsJan 21 4:58 PM



  • TD NOR REGGIE BUSH 88 YD PASS FROM DREW BREES (JOHN CARNEY KICK)







    Saints vs. BearsJan 21 4:58 PM


  • CORRECTION
    NFC CHAMPIONSHIP
    NFL NFC CHAMPIONSHIP
    TD NOR
    REGGIE BUSH 88 YD PASS FROM DREW BREES
    (JOHN CARNEY KICK)
    NEW ORLEANS 14
    CHICAGO 16 12:20 LEFT, 3RD QTR

    Saints vs. BearsJan 21 4:58 PM


  • CORRECTION
    NFC CHAMPIONSHIP
    NFL NFC CHAMPIONSHIP
    TD NOR
    REGGIE BUSH 88 YD PASS FROM DREW BREES
    (JOHN CARNEY KICK)
    NEW ORLEANS 14
    CHICAGO 13 0:46 LEFT, 3RD QTR

    Saints vs. BearsJan 21 4:58 PM



  • TD NOR REGGIE BUSH 88 YD PASS FROM DREW BREES (JOHN CARNEY KICK)







    Saints vs. BearsJan 21 4:56 PM



  • TD NOR REGGIE BUSH 88 YD PASS FROM DREW BREES (JOHN CARNEY KICK)







    Saints vs. BearsJan 21 4:56 PM



  • TD NOR REGGIE BUSH 88 YD PASS FROM DREW BREES (JOHN CARNEY KICK)







    Saints vs. BearsJan 21 4:56 PM


  • NFC CHAMPIONSHIP
    NFL NFC CHAMPIONSHIP
    TD NOR
    REGGIE BUSH 88 YD PASS FROM DREW BREES
    (JOHN CARNEY KICK)
    NEW ORLEANS 14
    CHICAGO 16 12:20 LEFT, 2ND QTR

    Saints vs. BearsJan 21 4:56 PM



  • TD NOR MARQUES COLSTON 13 YD PASS FROM DREW BREES (JOHN CARNEY KICK)







    Saints vs. BearsJan 21 4:31 PM



  • TD NOR MARQUES COLSTON 13 YD PASS FROM DREW BREES (JOHN CARNEY KICK)







    Saints vs. BearsJan 21 4:31 PM



  • TD NOR MARQUES COLSTON 13 YD PASS FROM DREW BREES (JOHN CARNEY KICK)







    Saints vs. BearsJan 21 4:31 PM


  • NFC CHAMPIONSHIP
    NFL NFC CHAMPIONSHIP
    TD NOR
    MARQUES COLSTON 13 YD PASS FROM DREW BREES
    (JOHN CARNEY KICK)
    NEW ORLEANS 7
    CHICAGO 16 0:46 LEFT, 2ND QTR

    Saints vs. BearsJan 21 4:31 PM



  • TD CHI THOMAS JONES 2 YD RUN (ROBBIE GOULD KICK)






    Saints vs. BearsJan 21 4:22 PM



  • TD CHI THOMAS JONES 2 YD RUN (ROBBIE GOULD KICK)






    Saints vs. BearsJan 21 4:22 PM


  • NFC CHAMPIONSHIP
    NFL NFC CHAMPIONSHIP
    TD CHI
    THOMAS JONES 2 YD RUN
    (ROBBIE GOULD KICK)
    NEW ORLEANS 0
    CHICAGO 16 1:56 LEFT, 2ND QTR

    Saints vs. BearsJan 21 4:22 PM



  • FG CHI ROBBIE GOULD 24 YD

    Grossman 30-yard pass to Clark to New Orleans 19.






    Saints vs. BearsJan 21 4:06 PM



  • FG CHI ROBBIE GOULD 24 YD





    Saints vs. BearsJan 21 4:04 PM


  • NFC CHAMPIONSHIP
    NFL NFC CHAMPIONSHIP
    FG CHI
    ROBBIE GOULD 24 YD
    NEW ORLEANS 0
    CHICAGO 9 8:52 LEFT, 2ND QTR

    Saints vs. BearsJan 21 4:04 PM



  • FG CHI ROBBIE GOULD 43 YD

    Manning fumble recovery at New Orleans 30.






    Saints vs. BearsJan 21 3:53 PM


  • NFC CHAMPIONSHIP
    NFL NFC CHAMPIONSHIP
    FG CHI
    ROBBIE GOULD 43 YD
    NEW ORLEANS 0
    CHICAGO 6 13:40 LEFT, 2ND QTR

    Saints vs. BearsJan 21 3:51 PM


  • NFC CHAMPIONSHIP
    NFL NFC CHAMPIONSHIP
    END, 1ST QTR 1ST 2ND 3RD 4TH TOTAL
    --- --- --- --- -----
    NEW ORLEANS 0 0
    CHICAGO 3 3 END, 1ST QTR
    SCORING SUMMARY
    1ST QUARTER: CHI - FG, ROBBIE GOULD 19 YD, 14:19. Drive:
    11 plays, 34 yards in 4:44. Key
    plays: Vasher 14-yard fumble return
    to New Orleans 36; Davis 16-yard
    run

    Jan 21 3:47 PM


  • NFC CHAMPIONSHIP
    NFL PLAYOFFS
    NEW ORLEANS 0
    CHICAGO 3 0:33 LEFT, 1ST QTR
    CHI BALL ON NOR 30 YD LINE
    1ST AND 10

    Saints vs. BearsJan 21 3:46 PM



  • FG CHI ROBBIE GOULD 19 YD





    Saints vs. BearsJan 21 3:41 PM