CHICAGO -- Here are five things we learned in the Chicago Bears’ 26-18 loss to the New Orleans Saints:
1. Saints are on a different level: The Bears didn’t play a terrible game on Sunday, but their loss to New Orleans reaffirms Chicago is not one of the NFC’s elite teams. Besides the Saints and Seattle Seahawks, are there many elite teams in the NFC? The answer is "no," which is why there is no reason to overreact. Chicago is still a team capable of finishing 9-7 or perhaps 10-6 and earning a spot in the playoffs. Look, if the Bears have to travel to New Orleans in January and face the Saints in the playoffs, it is unlikely Marc Trestman’s team leaves town with a victory. Same goes for a game at Seattle. But the New York Giants come to Chicago on Thursday night with an 0-5 record. Then the Bears have a winnable road game in Washington, followed by the bye week. That gives them extra time to prepare for the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field on Monday, Nov. 4. Chicago remains in position to be a playoff team. Really, that’s all that matters. Besides, did people really think the Bears would knock off the undefeated Saints? If you did, then consider this a much-needed wake-up call.
2. Bears are thin on defensive line: There doesn’t seem to be an obvious solution to the Bears’ pass rush woes. Although the team sacked Drew Brees two times on Sunday, that just isn’t going to cut it. Somehow, the Bears need to figure out a way to harass the opposing quarterback on a more consistent basis. The Nate Collins knee injury comes at a terrible time, with Henry Melton and Turk McBride already on injured reserve and Stephen Paea dealing with a sore toe. The Bears will need to invest in the defensive line in the offseason, especially via the draft, but that possible infusion of young talent is months away from arriving in Chicago. Since the Bears don’t have an abundance of salary cap space, the current guys on the roster need to step it up. Veterans Julius Peppers and Corey Wootton appear to be giving maximum effort, with Wootton bumping inside to defensive tackle sometimes out of necessity, but what the Bears truly need is for Shea McClellin to prove he was worthy of being a first-round pick.
3. Alshon Jeffery is a future No. 1 receiver: Jeffery has been outstanding the past two games, setting a franchise record on Sunday with 218 receiving yards. If the Bears don’t feel comfortable extending Brandon Marshall’s contract after the season, maybe they look to deal Marshall and anoint Jeffery as the No. 1. It’s just an idea, and it would save the Bears some serious money and cap space in the short term. Jeffery can do it all on offense, and as long as he stays healthy, his future is extremely bright. Nobody is trying to run Marshall out of town, but Jeffery gives the Bears leverage in the event negotiations with Marshall turn contentious in the offseason.
4. Adam Podlesh recovered: The Bears don’t need to bring in six punters for tryouts this week. Podlesh responded to a week’s worth of criticism after his subpar effort in Detroit with a solid outing versus the Saints, punting the ball four times for a 45.3 yard average and 44.8 yard net average. Whatever mechanical problems Podlesh detected on film this week were corrected. The Bears sent a message, and Podlesh took ownership of the situation and fixed it.
5. Jimmy Graham is unstoppable: We basically knew this heading into Sunday, but even with all the hype surrounding Graham in recent weeks, the Bears were unable to contain the Saints’ star tight end. How do you cover a 6-foot-7 tight end with elite-receiver skill? If you know the answer, you should be an NFL defensive coordinator, because few people know the answer to that riddle. Graham caught 10 of 11 balls thrown his direction for 135 yards versus the Bears. If New Orleans has home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, the Saints are going to be almost impossible to beat with Graham and Brees leading the way on offense.