Saints show Bears how it's done

Their offense smarter, more mature as Payton outcoaches Trestman

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On the first play of the Bears' 26-18 loss Sunday to the Saints, running back Matt Forte let a soft toss slither through his fingers for a 10-yard loss.

It set the perfect tone for a day defined by the Bears dropping the ball, literally and figuratively.

One team came to Soldier Field ready to prove it was among the NFC's elite and one arrived ready for a nap. On the Bears' first nine offensive plays, they gained 6 yards, gave up two sacks and lost one of two fumbles. By then, the Saints had taken a 6-0 lead and the Bears had given us reason to wonder what they do at practice.

The Saints are who the Bears want to be when they grow up. That maturation includes the head coach.

"Certainly disappointed in the way we started this game offensively and that starts with me,'' Trestman said.

No argument here. In the locker room, left tackle Jermon Bushrod indirectly indicted Trestman's staff, explaining the Saints used blitzes the Bears hadn't seen and the breakdowns were "more mental than physical." At the lectern, Trestman complimented Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan. It all made Ryan's '13 Saints defense sound like father Buddy's from the '85 Bears.

If the Bears offensive line was overpowered, it might be easier to accept. But outsmarted?

And on the fifth Sunday of the season, Trestman got outcoached. The schematic advantages so obvious during a 3-0 start seemed like ages ago when Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins, unblocked off a blitz, forced Jay Cutler to fumble on the Bears' fourth offensive snap. The sharp focus the Bears demonstrated in September was nowhere to be found on two key fourth-quarter fourth downs, when receiver Earl Bennett dropped a pass and linebacker Lance Briggs jumped offside.

The Bears' special teams again were anything but. The casual pace in and out of the huddle during a fourth-quarter drive reflected a team leading by two scores, not trailing. The biggest difference between the Saints and the Bears was not from the shoulders down.

Sure, attrition hurt the Bears' defensive line. When end David Bass lines up next to tackle Landon Cohen, trouble looms for any defense. But the Bears didn't lose because of the players who didn't play. They lost because the players who did failed to create a turnover for the first time in 11 regular-season games.

One day the Bears hope to make Trestman's game-day intellect as meaningful against good teams as the Saints made Sean Payton's. The beauty of Saints running back Pierre Thomas' 25-yard touchdown on a misdirection screen pass — the play of the game — was not in its execution as much as its design. The consistency with which Saints tight end Jimmy Graham got open can be blamed on Bears safeties lining up in Lombard but also credited to Payton's thick playbook. Payton and the Saints found ways to put their playmakers in position to make an impact. Trestman and the Bears still are learning.

Cutler posted a gaudy passer rating of 128.1 and wide receiver Alshon Jeffery set a single-game franchise record with 218 receiving yards. Yet it feels like the Bears offense remains out of sync. Or, listen closely: It sure sounds like it.

Forte had 12 carries against the Saints after carrying just 14 times against the Lions. That suggests an offense giving up too easily on the running game — especially considering the Saints defense entered the game giving up an NFL-worst 5.48 yards per carry.

So far, Forte has taken his limited handoffs in stride without giving off uneasy vibes — unlike wide receiver Brandon Marshall. Marshall congratulated Jeffery and expressed faith in Trestman but left no doubt about his continued frustration with life as a decoy. There is a time and place for a Pro Bowl wide receiver to state his case for a bigger role. After a game in which his offense gains 434 total yards and his sidekick makes team history, even in defeat, wasn't the ideal time or place for Marshall.

"It's tough, it's really tough,'' said Marshall, who caught four passes for 30 yards and a touchdown. "Last week after the game, my No. 1 goal going into the work week was working on my body language when I'm not in the game.''

Not in the game? Marshall volunteered that he helped pass-block on third downs and was kept on the sidelines during other plays he expected to be in the huddle. He revealed he stopped lobbying Trestman for more touches because it distracted him enough to drop passes.

"Mentally, it was too much for me,'' Marshall said.

Mentally, the Saints proved too much for the Bears on a day the difference between the two teams was obvious.

dhaugh@tribune.com

Twitter @DavidHaugh

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