BATON ROUGE, La. (AP)—The Chicago Bears showed off the depth of their running attack and strengthened their credentials as a serious playoff contender.
The New Orleans Saints knocked starter Thomas Jones from the game in the first half, only to watch Adrian Peterson and Cedric Benson combine for 137 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries in the Bears’ 20-17 victory Sunday.
“We get off the plane running the ball,” Bears coach Lovie Smith said. “Cedric Benson, Thomas Jones, Adrian Peterson all did a good job … What can I say about the offensive line I haven’t said?”
Robbie Gould made the winning field goal with 6 seconds to go from 28 yards. Kyle Orton set up the clincher with a 22-yard, third-down completion on a sideline route to Muhsin Muhammad at the 10-yard line. That allowed Chicago (5-3) to run the clock down to 10 seconds before lining up for the winning kick.
Saints owner Tom Benson stayed away from Baton Rouge as promised after complaining that security was inadequate to protect him from angry fans. A number of fans stayed away, too. The crowd was announced at 32,637, dwarfed by LSU’s 93,000-seat Tiger Stadium. The no-shows were probably glad they didn’t come as the Saints (2-7) lost their fifth straight despite playing well in stints.
Chicago, meanwhile, won its fourth straight for the first time since 2001-02, the last time the Bears were playoff bound.
Peterson gave the Bears a 17-10 lead in the third quarter on a 6-yard carry after he had run for a slashing 36-yard gain one play earlier. He finished with 58 yards on six carries.
Benson had 79 yards on 14 carries, including a 27-yarder during the Bears’ final drive, which began on the Chicago 25 and ate up 4:02.
“I never thought there was that much space in the NFL, but there was a lot of it,” said Benson, a rookie out of Texas. “It says a lot more for our offensive line. Those guys are consistent, snap after snap. You could say anybody could look good behind those guys.”
Orton was 12-of-26 for 137 yards and a touchdown and was intercepted twice. But the Bears ran for 183 yards, with Jones gaining 40 yards on 11 carries before leaving with bruised ribs.
Although the Saints ran well, they came up short on third-and-1 with under five minutes left, setting up the Bears’ decisive drive.
“We just cannot seem to get that one little play here and there that gives you a better chance of winning at the end,” offensive tackle Wayne Gandy said. “You’d hope you could take that ball with four minutes to go and get a field goal. We created that third-and-one. It wasn’t successful.”
The Saints’ first two possessions got them to or inside the Chicago 20, but they only came away with John Carney’s 21-yard field goal, set up by Smith’s 42-yard run on their opening drive.
“We talked all week about how we kick field goals instead of scoring touchdowns and we came out and did the same thing,” said Saints coach Jim Haslett, who has never been this far below .500 in six seasons as a head coach.
The second drive began on the Chicago 35 after Fred Thomas’ interception of a tipped pass.
However, running back Aaron Stecker fumbled on the Chicago 15 and Chris Harris returned it to the New Orleans 38. That was the first of three New Orleans drives that started in Chicago territory after turnovers, none of which yielded points.
The Bears have made a habit of converting turnovers into points lately, and did so seven plays after Harris’ fumble return. Orton drilled a 4-yard slant pass to Justin Gage for a 7-3 lead.
New Orleans jumped back ahead 10-7 on a 14-play, 95-yard drive that ended when Brooks hit Donte’ Stallworth on a crossing route for a 15-yard score. It was the Saints’ first touchdown in more than eight quarters.
Against a Chicago defense that entered the game allowing an average of fewer than 85 yards rushing, the Saints’ resurgent ground game surpassed 100 yards by the second quarter.
But Harris’ sack on a safety blitz helped Chicago get the ball back with just under two minutes remaining in the second quarter. The Bears then drove from their 31 to the Saints 17, setting up Gould’s 35-yard field goal to tie the game at 10 with 22 seconds left in the half.
Gage started for Mark Bradley (knee), who was placed on injured reserve last week. … Saints TE Ernie Conwell (knee) did not play. Zach Hilton started in his place and dropped potential touchdown pass on New Orleans’ first drive. … Orton’s interception was his first in 63 attempts.