By Andrew Seligman AP Sports Writer
The Clinton Herald
---- — CHICAGO — The Bears were rolling along with three straight wins to start the season, sending hopes soaring around Chicago.
Nothing like back-to-back losses to dampen the mood.
The Bears dropped their second straight on Sunday, falling 26-18 to New Orleans despite Alshon Jeffery’s franchise-record 218 yards receiving.
Jay Cutler also had a solid game, throwing for 358 yards and two touchdowns, but it wasn’t enough to prevent Chicago (3-2) from falling again.
Coming off a loss to Detroit, little went right for the Bears in this one. And they won’t have much time to regroup, with the winless New York Giants coming to town Thursday night.
The offense got off to a slow start. The run game never clicked, and the defense got picked apart.
Drew Brees threw two touchdown passes, Jimmy Graham tied an NFL record with another 100-yard game and the Saints (5-0) remained unbeaten.
“Obviously, we didn’t play our best games these last two weeks, but we still have a long season ahead,” cornerback Tim Jennings said.
One thing that did work for Chicago was the Cutler-Jeffery connection.
Cutler completed 24 of 33 passes for 358 yards and two touchdowns, while Jeffery broke Harlon Hill’s 59-year-old franchise record by 4 yards. A second-year pro, Jeffery had a career-high 10 catches and a touchdown on a day when Brandon Marshall was neutralized by double teams.
“My main concern is not what I did, but about what the team did,” Jeffery said. “We didn’t get the win, so that’s what I focus on.”
What he did was impressive, though. If he keeps it up, that might draw some attention away from Marshall, who clearly wasn’t happy after catching just four passes for 30 yards.
“I can do a better job of getting myself open vs. that coverage, and we just have to make adjustments,” he said. “We know teams are going to try to take me out of the game. But I have faith in our guys in this locker room and the coaches upstairs that we’re going to do what’s best for the team. We’ve just got to bounce back.”
Brees was 29-of-35 passing for 288 yards in his first victory in four career games at Soldier Field. Garrett Hartley matched a career high with four field goals as New Orleans picked up its first win in Chicago since a 31-10 victory on Oct. 8, 2000. (The Saints also won a road game against the Bears in 2002, but that victory came in Champaign, Ill. because Soldier Field was being renovated.)
“It’s about time,” Brees said with a chuckle. “Man, we’ve come up here quite a few times in some big games, and, unfortunately, we’re never able to walk away with a victory — ‘06, ‘07 and ‘08, in three consecutive years. We’ve been waiting for that opportunity to come back.”
Graham continued his torrid start for the Saints, catching 10 passes for 135 yards in his fourth consecutive 100-yard game — matching an NFL record for a tight end. Tony Gonzalez was the first to accomplish the streak in 2000, and Graham matched the surge in 2011.
Hartley’s third field goal gave the Saints a 23-7 lead with 8:03 left in the third, but Robbie Gould responded with a 27-yarder for the Bears.
Trailing 26-10 with three minutes left, Cutler led the Bears on one last scoring drive. He passed to Marshall for a 2-yard TD, and Matt Forte ran it in for the 2-point conversion.
The Bears got the ball back with 21 seconds left and no timeouts. Cutler then passed to Jeffery in the middle of the field for 21 yards, but time expired before they could run another play.
The bigger issue for the Bears was the way they started the game. They went three-and-out on their first possession. Cutler got sacked and stripped by Malcolm Jenkins on the first play of their next drive, leading to a second field goal for New Orleans. And their third possession ended with a punt.
“The first three series really hurt our tempo and our rhythm and our defense stepped up early and held the Saints to field goals but the residual is they were on the field too long because of our start on the first three series,” coach Marc Trestman said. “They had the ball for (36) minutes. There’s a residual effect, there’s a connection to how things go during the course of the game and it made it much more difficult on our defense as we worked into the third and the fourth quarter.”