Saints' magic-carpet ride hits a stone wall in Chicago

CHICAGO (AP) -- The Chicago Bears know how to make a Super Bowl

memorable. They're making this one historic long before it's

played.

Dissed all season long, Rex Grossman and Co. are heading to the

big game for the first time since 1985 after rolling over the New Orleans Saints 39-14 Sunday, and Da Coach leading them there makes

it all the more special.

Bears in NFC title game

Chicago Bears
The Bears are now 2-2 in the NFC Championship Game since the merger in 1970. The winner of every NFC title game in which the Bears participate has gone on to win the Super Bowl.

Year
Opponent
Result
2006vs. SaintsWon 39-14
1988vs. 49ersLost 28-3
1985vs. RamsWon 24-0
1984at 49ersLost 23-0

Lovie Smith became the first black head coach to reach the NFL's

marquee game in its 41-year history and roughly four hours later,

his good pal and mentor Tony Dungy of the Indianapolis Colts joined

him.

"I'll feel even better to be the first black coach to hold up

the world championship trophy," Smith said after the Bears won the

NFC championship.

This isn't the wild bunch, led by coach Mike Ditka and

quarterbacked by Jim McMahon, that paraded down Bourbon Street,

then routed New England for the championship 21 years ago. Its

defense isn't overpowering, its quarterback isn't a renegade, its

reputation isn't celebrated.

This team, despite its impressive record, was maligned all

season and never possessed the overpowering aura of Ditka's gang.

Still, Smith's team did it in true Bears fashion, with big plays

on defense and a steady running game in the sleet and snow, ending

the Saints' uplifting saga.

The Colts (15-4) opened as a one-touchdown favorite over the

Bears (15-3) in their matchup at Miami in two weeks. Indianapolis

beat New England 38-34 for the AFC title.

"I am really into the great tradition we have with the Chicago

Bears," Smith said. "I am just trying to get our football team up

to that same standard Mike had his team at, especially that '85

team."

Added All-Pro linebacker Brian Urlacher: "For our franchise,

this is big. They are a big part of this city, and what they did in

'85 is huge. We have an opportunity to do that right now. We're

excited to have the opportunity to kind of put the ['85] guys in

the background for a little while."

All the worries about how genuine the Bears' outstanding season

was disappeared thanks to running back Thomas Jones, All-Pro kicker

Robbie Gould and a defense that, while not dominant, made enough

decisive plays.

Elias Says

Thomas Jones
Jones
For the second week in a row, Thomas Jones scored two rushing touchdowns for the Bears. The last player with consecutive games with two or more rushing TDs in the same postseason was Terrell Davis for the 1997 Broncos.

• Read more Elias Says.

"I hate watching TV," defensive end Adewale Ogunleye said,

"but when you see everyone picking the Saints, the thing is we won

14 games, now 15, by playing sound defense and we have been doing a

good job all season. We know they are coming in as a No. 1 offense

and we stepped up to the plate."

For a moment, though, in the third quarter they seemed to be in

trouble.

Reggie Bush's electrifying 88-yard touchdown catch and dash to

the end zone pulled the Saints within two points, 16-14. But from

then on, Urlacher and the Bears' defense took over.

Chicago, which has won nine NFL titles but has been an also-ran

for much of the last two decades, later went 85 yards in five plays

in the worst of the weather. The oft-criticized Grossman had four

completions, including a 33-yarder to a diving Bernard Berrian that

clinched it, sending the bundled-up fans in Soldier Field into

foot-stomping hysteria and chants of "Super Bowl, Super Bowl."

"We had a great game today," said Grossman, who was 11-for-26

for 144 yards, but made no mistakes. "This is great and all, but

we have one game to go."

Jones had all 69 yards on an eight-play ground drive in the

second quarter, scored twice and rushed for 123 yards. Gould nailed

three field goals.

The Bears, who led the league with 44 takeaways, forced four

turnovers, and when NFC passing leader Drew Brees fumbled less than

a minute after Berrian's TD, whatever karma the Saints (11-7)

carried this season disappeared.

"We talked a lot about getting back to what we do and that's

getting takeaways," Smith said.

Cedric Benson then scored on a 12-yard run, and from there it

was a matter of searching for the sunscreen.

Smith and Bears owner Virginia McCaskey, daughter of Bears

founder George Halas, accepted the Halas Trophy moments after

Grossman tossed the ball deep into the stands after the final

kneel-down.

"This is why we play the game, to get to the Super Bowl and

win," Urlacher said. "This overshadows everything."

It was a bitter, sloppy conclusion to the Saints' remarkable

turnaround from a nomadic 3-13 season in the aftermath of Hurricane

Katrina's destruction to this winning season. As their city

rebuilds, the team has provided an inspiring respite in the

recovery story.

This was the first trip this far into the playoffs for the

40-year-old franchise, previously best known as the Aints, whose

fans wore paper bags on their heads because the team was so bad.

"Just to be able to turn this organization around a bit from

where it was last year is saying a lot," Bush said. "We don't

need to hang our heads about anything. ... We need to use this as

motivation to come back and get to this point again next year and,

hopefully, get to the Super Bowl."

Down 16-0 and throttled for 28 minutes, the Saints awakened late

in the first half on a 29-yard third-down completion to

Marques Colston, who previously had several drops and several more slips.

Brees threw a pair of sideline darts and Colston beat

Charles Tillman for a 13-yard TD that temporarily changed the flow with 46

seconds remaining in the half.

It took New Orleans only 2:40 into the third quarter to make it

16-14 on Bush's spectacular 88-yard touchdown that ended with a

couple of bush moves. The rookie beat Chris Harris off the line,

ignored the sleet and extended for Brees' looping pass. Then he

sped down the left sideline and, at midfield, used one of those

Heisman jukes past Danieal Manning.

As Bush neared the end zone, he turned and pointed tauntingly at

the hopelessly trailing Urlacher before somersaulting into the end

zone.

"I apologized to [coach Sean Payton] about that," Bush said.

"Obviously, I know I made a mistake, but I'm not going to kill

myself over it. ... You move on."

That hot-dogging wasn't close to Brees' mistake in the end zone.

Under pressure but still in the pocket, he threw the ball away,

causing a safety.

That erased any momentum for the Saints, and Chicago scored on

Berrian's brilliant catch at the 2; he was not tackled down and

stood up to cross the goal line.

A Chicago blitz stymied New Orleans' opening drive. After Devery Henderson outfought Tillman for a 40-yard pass to the Bears' 32, an

all-out rush on third down led to a sack by Israel Idonije and a

Saints punt into the end zone.

It set a first-half trend.

Another sack, by rookie Mark Anderson, Chicago's top pass rusher

this season, was even more embarrassing to the Saints. Brees lost

the ball and a Keystone Kops chase for it wound up in a 25-yard

loss when rookie guard Jahri Evans recovered.

But Chicago's offense went nowhere.

So the defense got things started. Harris stripped the ball from

Colston and Tillman returned it to the Saints' 36. After getting

their initial first down on a 16-yard reverse by Rashied Davis, the

Bears gambled on fourth-and-1 at the 4 and Benson converted.

But all they got was Gould's 19-yard field goal.

New Orleans remained charitable, and Adrian Peterson stripped

kickoff returner Michael Lewis at the Saints' 30. Sean Payton lost

a video challenge, and Gould hit from 43.

The sloppy footing was an issue all during the game,

particularly once the cold rain, followed by sleet and snow, began

falling. Runners, receivers and returners kept slipping and areas

of the turf were gashed by halftime.

Gould's 24-yarder made it 9-0 and Jones had his personal

touchdown drive, with his 33-yard run the Bears' longest all

season.

Jones capped the ground march with a 2-yard run for a 16-0 lead.

He also scored from 15 yards in the fourth quarter.

"It couldn't have been a more perfect situation for Chicago

Bears football," Jones said. "Just perfect."