Favored Saints brace for Bears team with 'nothing to lose'
By BRETT MARTEL
NEW ORLEANS (AP) Saints linebacker Demario Davis' largely productive NFL career also has had its share of disappointing, teachable moments.
Losing seasons with the New York Jets and Cleveland Browns helped Davis cherish recent postseason opportunities with New Orleans. And in the playoffs, Davis has experienced excruciating losses in each of the past three seasons - with the decisive score coming on each game's final play.
So as the four-time NFC South champion Saints (12-4) embark on yet another playoff run, starting Sunday against the recently resurgent Chicago Bears (8-8) in the Superdome, Davis is imploring teammates to narrow their focus and stay in the present.
"The only thing that we're promised is this moment. That is the only clock that you could be looking at," Davis said. "It isn't like, as a team, you've got so many opportunities to be here. The only moment we have is right now and it's all about what we do with it right now."
For the Saints, the stakes are high because their quarterback is 41-year-old Drew Brees, who has become synonymous with New Orleans during the past 15 seasons. Brees brought the football-obsessed community it's lone major pro sports championship 11 seasons ago, and became the NFL's all-time leader in yards passing. Brees will turn 42 on Jan. 15 and hasn't committed to playing beyond this season, so each game could be his last.
Asked if he'd decided whether this season would be his last, Brees said only: "I've made a decision about being the best I can be this week so we can go win this game so we can keep playing."
Brees is in his ninth postseason with New Orleans and 11th in his career.
Bears quarterback Mitch Trubisky, now in his fourth NFL season, is in the playoffs for just the second time after what was a turbulent 2020 for him.
Trubisky was benched earlier this season and has started just nine games. But the Bears went 6-3 in those games, with three victories in four games to close the regular season and sneak into the playoffs.
"We got nothing to lose. We know everybody is overlooking us," Trubisky said. "We've got to come in playing smart and play disciplined football, but that doesn't mean coming in being uptight. I think, go in and play free."
TRIED AND TRUE STRENGTHS
While Brees has been the star of some prolific passing offenses that simply outscored opponents under coach Sean Payton, the veteran quarterback takes comfort in the fact the Saints have thrived this season in the running game and on defense.
The Saints' 2,265 yards rushing are the most since the Payton era began 2006. The defense ranks fourth and tied for the NFL lead in interceptions with 18.
"The best teams can run the football and play great defense," Brees said. "Those are kind of the two core things that you look at with any team that has staying power, that has the ability to play anywhere, anytime and overcome anything and sustain."
The Bears will likely need a dynamic performance from a defense that ranked among the top 10 for much of the season if they're going to knock out the high-powered Saints. The problem is that group isn't producing momentum-changing plays as much as it would like.
The Bears tied for 25th in the NFL in takeaways with 18 and were middle of the road in sacks with 35, 17th in the league.
Two-time Pro Bowl safety Eddie Jackson had no interceptions for the first time in his career after picking off 10 passes over his first three seasons. Khalil Mack, a three-time All-Pro, had nine sacks - his second straight year in single digits. And Robert Quinn had just two sacks, down from 11 1/2 for Dallas last season.
"It's just one of those years," safety Tashaun Gipson said. "Sometimes you might have a year where everything is clicking and every single pass that touches your palms, you catch, and then there's years like this."
Brees, receiver Michael Thomas and running back Alvin Kamara could all be back on the field together on Sunday - something circumstances have largely prevented this season. Thomas has missed nine games, largely because of an ankle injury. Brees has missed four games with rib and lung issues. Kamara was out last week because of COVID-19.
They haven't all played together since Brees was injured in Week 10.
"That's hard to believe," Brees said. "I'm excited to have Mike back. Excited for Alvin with what he's gone through recently, and just for our whole squad."
While Thomas, the 2019 AP Offensive Player of the Year, has returned to practice, Kamara is not scheduled to return to the team until game day and won't practice all week.
But Brees insisted that "Alvin's going to be just fine."
Bears star receiver Allen Robinson went from matching a career high with 10 receptions in a win over Jacksonville to catching a season-low two passes for 37 yards in the loss to Green Bay last week.
Considering his dominant form for much of the season, the Bears would like to get him more involved - if he's healthy. The Bears listed Robinson as missing some practice time this week because of a hamstring injury.
Robinson's 102 receptions this season were a career high. And his 1,250 yards were second only to the 1,400 he had with Jacksonville in his 2015 Pro Bowl season - his second year in the NFL.
"I trust in the plan that they have, that they're going to put together," Robinson said. "It's just my job to execute."
AP Sports Writer Andrew Seligman contributed.
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Updated January 7, 2021