Saints hoping to get back on track vs. Bears

CHICAGO — Like icy temperatures, high-stakes games between the Bears and New Orleans are becoming a staple of winter in Chicago.

Two years ago, they met for a Super Bowl berth.

Last year, a playoff spot was on the line.

And on Thursday?

They'll meet in another important game at Soldier Field, only the Saints would like to see one thing change — the result.

"We don't want it to be three times in a row," linebacker Scott Shanle said.

At 7-6, neither team has much room for error to make the playoffs.

The Bears trail Minnesota by a game in the NFC North, with the Vikings holding the tiebreaker. Chicago's odds for a wild-card berth are remote at best, and New Orleans, which is a game out of the wild card, comes in with a bitter taste despite winning three of its last four.

It stems from season-ending losses the past two years at Soldier Field.

"Oh, I'm pretty sure they want to beat us," Bears receiver Rashied Davis said.

The Bears were already out of the playoff picture last season when they wiped out the slim shot New Orleans had at making it, beating the Saints 33-25 on the final day.

And two years ago, the Bears scored the first 16 points in the NFC championship game and pulled away for a 39-14 victory after New Orleans closed within two. The lead was down to 16-14 after Reggie Bush scored on an 88-yard touchdown reception, but the momentum shifted back to the Bears after he punctuated that highlight reel play with a celebratory flip into the end zone.

Bush apologized after the game, and although the Bears took offense, maybe they should have thanked him instead. After all, the Bears' defense woke up and put away the Saints.

"I've said what I have to say about that game, gotten over it," said defensive end Adewale Ogunleye, who was particularly upset with Bush after that game. "Hopefully, he's learned his lesson."

Bush missed last year's game because of a knee injury and sat out four this season with a torn meniscus in his left knee before returning against Tampa Bay two weeks ago. He then had 10 carries for 80 yards and three receptions for 26 in a 29-25 victory over Atlanta that was the Saints' most balanced performance this year.

With Drew Brees threatening Dan Marino's single-season passing record, most of their league-leading 405.9 yards per game have come through the air. But along with Bush, Pierre Thomas delivered in a big way as the Saints ran for a season-high 184 yards against the Falcons.

A Chicago native and Illinois product, Thomas ran for 102 yards and scored two touchdowns in the fourth quarter — on a screen pass and a sweep. He also had a big game against Chicago as a rookie last season, running for 105 yards.

"Last year, before the game actually, Ron Turner talked to me and said, 'Hey, I tried telling these defensive guys about you, I told them to look out for you and watch because you were a hard player,'" Thomas said.

Turner, the Bears' offensive coordinator, was Thomas' head coach at Illinois.

"This year, I think they're going to be ready this time," said Thomas, who's from suburban Lynwood.

It's safe to say the Bears' Matt Forte won't catch his hometown team off guard, either.

The team's rookie record holder with 1,476 yards from scrimmage (1,081 rushing), Forte grew up in the New Orleans suburb of Slidell and played at Tulane. The Saints took a hard look at him before he wound up going to the Bears in the second round.

"He does all the things you look for in a running back when you start with the ability to run, the ability to break tackles," New Orleans coach Sean Payton said. "He's got good vision and balance. He catches the ball extremely well. He's very intelligent and he handles the blitz assignments well. So when you get that in a running back as a rookie, that's impressive."

His performance is one of the keys to another high-stakes game between teams with little margin for error.

"It always seems like this time of year, it's going to be a make-or-break-your-season type of game every time we play them," Bears offensive tackle John St. Clair said.

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