Rapid Reaction: New Orleans Saints

CHICAGO -- A few thoughts on the New Orleans Saints' 31-15 victory over the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field:

What it means: The good Saints showed up again and vaulted into sole possession of first place in the NFC South at 6-8. Of course, this performance comes with a huge disclaimer: They did it against a Bears team (5-9) that has clearly thrown in the towel and repeatedly self-destructed in this game.

Now the Saints will have to prove they can string two good games together, with a critical divisional showdown at home against the Atlanta Falcons (5-9) in six days. This was certainly a great start, with Drew Brees and the defense both giving outstanding bounce-back performances.

Stock watch: Everyone's stock went way down last week, and everyone's went way up Monday night. Welcome to the Saints' 2014 roller-coaster ride.

The most remarkable resurgence was on defense, after that unit hit rock-bottom in the previous Sunday's 41-10 loss to the Carolina Panthers. The Saints made a handful of lineup changes in their secondary, with cornerback Terrence Frederick and safety Jamarca Sanford starting, while Kenny Vaccaro moved back into a nickel role. But it was rookie safety Pierre Warren who came up biggest with two interceptions.

Cornerback Patrick Robinson also had an interception, and New Orleans sacked Jay Cutler a whopping seven times -- three by David Hawthorne and two by Junior Galette.

Sloppy start, tense finish: The Saints were far from perfect. Their first quarter was way too sloppy, with fumbles and penalties (including a lost fumble by receiver Nick Toon at the Bears' 4-yard line on the second offensive play). They once again failed to show that killer instinct after jumping to a 21-0 lead. They had three punts and a field goal over four drives before finally finishing the job.

Game ball: Warren tried to rip it away from Brees with his two picks. But you can't ignore a performance such as this: 29-of-36 passing, 375 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions.

Brees was 18-of-20 in the first half -- one completion shy of the best start in his career, according to ESPN Stats & Information. He also tied Peyton Manning for the most 300-yard, three-TD games in NFL history with the 46th of his career.

Up next: It doesn't get any bigger than this for two teams with losing records in Week 16. The winner of the Saints-Falcons game will control its own destiny in the NFC South. In fact, the Saints could even clinch if Carolina also loses.

But the Saints will have to prove they can win at home again after losing their past four games in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.