Coming into last Sunday's NFC Championship Game, Drew Brees & Company were averaging 391.5 yards per game, tops in football. Brees led the league with 4,418 passing yards and compiled an impressive 96.2 passer rating, and the combination of Deuce McAllister and Reggie Bush in the backfield was starting to be scary good. And even though highly-decorated receiver Joe Horn missed half the season nursing a turn groin, Brees continued to be sensational throwing the ball to the likes of Devery Henderson, Terrance Copper, and out-of-nowhere rookie Marques Colston.
First-year head coach Sean Payton was the man calling the plays, which was instrumental in him being named NFL Coach of the Year this season.
In the divisional round against the red-hot Eagles, Payton employed a balanced attack and came away with a 27-24 victory at the Superdome. McAllister looked stronger than ever, running 21 times for 143 yards, scoring two touchdowns, and bowling over helpless Philly defenders along the way. Bush contributed on the ground, as well, carrying the ball 12 times for 52 yards and hitting paydirt once himself.
Brees may have led the league with eight 300-yard passing games, but his thunder-and-lightning tailback tandem helped him have a very efficient day in the air with 240 yards on 20-of-32 passing.
Much of the talk leading up to the Bears-Saints matchup revolved around how the Monsters of the Midway would defend Bush, but Brian Urlacher said all week long that McAllister was indeed the key to the game. If he got 20 carries and had anywhere near the kind of success he had the previous week against Philadelphia, the Bears were in for a mighty long day. And New Orleans would probably be on their way to Super Bowl XLI.
But Payton out-thought himself and somehow only gave McAllister six carries in last Sunday's 39-14 defeat. The Saints were forced to play from behind the majority of the game, but most experts believe Payton abandoned his ground attack way too early. The Bears proved to be a little weak up the middle after the season-ending loss of Tommie Harris and gave up chunks of yardage to Shaun Alexander up the gut in the divisional round, but New Orleans called just 11 running plays in the game.
Brees did throw for 354 yards on the day, but asking him to attempt 49 passes in snowy January weather at Soldier Field was ill-advised.
Payton is the Bear Report Dud of the Week.