"We didn't play our best game today," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "It's hard to get wins on the road like this.
"Good football teams find a way to win when you don't play your best ball. That's what happened today."
The Bears survived the halftime loss of running back Thomas Jones due to an aggravated rib injury, two interceptions of Kyle Orton, a lost Orton fumble, the longest drive anyone has managed against their defense since November of 2003 and 104 first-half rushing yards allowed to come away with their first four-game winning streak since 2001.
"When it was on the line, we made plays," Orton said, after completing 12-of-26 for 137 yards with one touchdown.
The biggest play Orton made was a third-and-five pass on a fade pattern of 22 yards to Muhsin Muhammad at the Saints' 10-yard line with 1:43 remaining in the game. Gould had already missed a 47-yard field goal wide right and was kicking on a slippery, chopped-up field, so the Bears needed to get closer for the winning points. The completion made possible the winning kick.
"My job was easy," Muhammad said. "Kyle just kind of put the ball up in a place where only I could catch it. I had one-on-ones. (Former Packers cornerback) Mike McKenzie and I went and just caught the ball."
With running back Thomas Jones sidelined after aggravating a rib injury, Adrian Peterson led the Bears on a six-play, 94-yard drive. He broke a 36-yarder off left guard and finished it with a 6-yard touchdown run with 7:29 left in the second quarter.
Rookie running back Cedric Benson and third-string running back Adrian Peterson picked up the offense after Jones' injury, rushing for 137 second-half yards. Benson had his best game, gaining 79 yards on 14 carries including breakaway runs of 36 and 28 yards. Peterson (6 carries, 58 yards) also had a 36-yard run.
Benson's 27-yard burst off left tackle behind a block from fullback Bryan Johnson, who saw his first action since last November. It came with 4:08 left in the game on first down and put the Bears at the Saints' 48 to set up the winning drive.
"I didn't think there was ever that much space (to run) in the NFL but there was a lot over there," Benson said.
Orton, Benson, Peterson and the offense had a few other moments of brilliance. They had taken a 17-10 third-quarter lead when Peterson followed up his own 36-yard run by slamming in a 6-yard TD. That drive lasted 94 yards.
They had gone 38 yards for a 4-yard Orton TD pass to wide receiver Justin Gage with 6:26 left in the first quarter for a 7-3 lead. Just before halftime, they put together a 52-yard, nine-play two-minute drill to Gould's 35-yard field goal to tie the score at 10-10.
The defense's brilliance occurred in the second half after they gave up a 49-yard run by Antowain Smith -- the longest run they've allowed since 2003 -- to set up a 22-yard John Carney field goal on the game's first drive. They also had allowed a second-quarter, 95-yard march to Donte Stallworth's 15-yard TD catch of an Aaron Brooks pass for a 10-7 Saints lead. It was the longest scoring drive they've allowed since October of 2002.
"That's not how we play football," defensive end Alex Brown said. "We've got to go out and play. We don't let people run the ball on us. They were able to do it for some reason."
But the defense made game-changing plays, too. Safety Chris Harris recovered an Aaron Stecker fumble to set up Gage's TD one drive after Orton's first interception had given the Saints the ball at the Bears' 35 owning a 3-0 lead.
Hunter Hillenmeyer intercepted a Brooks pass at the Bears' 42 one play after Orton had lost a fumble on a sack. Orton then threw an interception three plays later but the defense forced a punt.
"We came in at halftime and it's not like we were doing something new," Smith said. "We just really tightened up our defense and we played the run a lot better in the second half."
The Bears gave up only 29 second-half rushing yards. But the defense faltered again midway through the fourth quarter and allowed an 80-yard game-tying Saints touchdown drive of 11 plays, ending with Brooks' 1-yard bootleg TD run to make it 17-17.
"We think we're pretty good," linebacker Brian Urlacher said. "We're 5-3, we didn't play that great today, but we found a way to win. That's what it comes down to.
"I've never seen an ugly win before. A win's a win. It doesn't matter how you get them."
The style points certainly meant nothing on this Sunday when the Bears survived 80 degree heat, high humidity and themselves to hand the Saints (2-7) their fifth straight loss.