"It was there for the taking in the second half and we just didn't take it," Bears coach Dick Jauron said. "We just didn't get it done."
A Saints team bound and determined to keep the Bears close or even hand them the game with penalties and stupid mistakes finally righted itself in the second half thanks to continued errors by the Bears.
"We beat ourselves one more time," said Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher.
Quarterback Kordell Stewart twice got blindsided for two sacks and lost two fumbles late in the first half and early in the second half which resulted in 10 Saints points, turning the Bears' assignment into one of catching up with an offense that had lost top wide receiver Marty Booker early due to an ankle sprain.
"I think we have to do a better job of communicating on the offensive line and getting that communication back to the (blocking) running back as well," offensive coordinator John Shoop said. "And it's not any one person. We've got to beat pressures and no matter what we've got to find some way to hang on to the ball.
The Bears had forged a 3-3 tie just before halftime when Paul Edinger matched John Carney's first-quarter 50-yard field goal with a 28-yarder. The Bears had forced a punt and Stewart, who finished 10-of-21 for 152 yards passing, got blindsided when Saints defensive end Charles Grant beat Bears tackle Mike Gandy. The ball popped out and Willie Whitehead recovered at the Bears' 23 to set up a 30-yard field goal on the first half's final play.
"We've got to give him more protection," said Bears running back Anthony Thomas about Stewart. "We've got a guy with a lot of ability back there who can do a lot of things. So we've got to give him enough time to get the ball out of his hands."
The other sack proved more costly. On the Bears' first second-half possession, blitzing nickel back Fred Thomas came off the same side of the line on third-and-seven and blindsided Stewart, causing a fumble which teammate Melvin Williams recovered at the Bears' 12. Three plays later Aaron Brooks rolled left and found Ernie Conwell coming back across the grain in the end zone for a 9-yard touchdown pass and a 13-3 New Orleans lead.
"Those points are big," said Bears wide receiver Dez White, who had five catches for 91 yards. "It demoralizes the defense."
It didn't, though, as the Bears' defense stayed tough and had held the Saints to 198 yards of offense through three quarters and only 93 passing yards.
After Edinger's last field goal ended an eight-minute, 14-play, 62-yard drive to get the Bears in position with 13:18 to play, the Bears' defense contributed a share to the defeat by failing to stop the Saints on three third-down plays, including the final third-and-goal from the 6. The touchdown pass from Brooks, who complete 14-of-29 for 153 yards, to Horn made the Bears' task daunting at 20-6 with 7:18 to play.
Twice they burned the Bears in blitzes for big plays on the drive.
"We've got to make plays when we have to," Urlacher said. "In certain situations we make mistakes. We didn't get home with the blitz.
"In certain situations we make mistakes."
The Bears did fight back with White's 4-yard TD catch on fourth-and-goal with 2:10 to play, but Edinger's onside kick went out of bounds and New Orleans killed off the clock.
"Everybody's frustrated when you're not winning games," Shoop complained. "We have to find ways to win games."
It seemed they had done much of what was needed to win this one, including benefit from Saints mistakes. About the only thing the Saints did well was besides sack Stewart and hold him to 10 completions was get Deuce McAllister free for a quiet116 rushing yards on 29 carries.
However, eight of those yards came on third-and-six with 1:59 left after the failed onside kick, when the Saints needed one first down to effectively end the game. McAllister took a direct long snap, ran around left end for 8 yards and the Saints had improved to 2-4.
"We had a chance to get the ball back but we didn't," said the Bears' end on that side, Alex Brown. "We're not going to beat ourselves up over it. We've just got to make a play."
The Saints also had several mistakes early but made plays like McAllister's in the clutch. Horn dropped a sure 50-yard catch in scoring position and Fred Thomas later dropped an easy interception in the end zone one play before Edinger's first field goal in the first half.
The Saints' ineptitude nearly cost them three more points at the end of the first half, but they were so bad they got points. After a false start penalty, Brooks' completed pass to fullback Terrelle Smith at the Bears' 3 did not go out of bounds. New Orleans had already squandered all their timeouts and time expired with the score 3-3.
However, another mistake on the same play -- an illegal motion penalty -- caused officials to rule the clock should have stopped with one second left in the half due to the call and allowed Carney to come on and kick a 30-yard field goal for the 6-3 Saints lead.
"We make a good play on defense and they have two penalties in a row and they get rewarded for it," said Urlacher, shaking his head.
It was a new twist to a pattern of Bears defeat, which is becoming old already at this point in the season.