The Bears started uneasily, getting their hands on three New Orleans fumbles, recovering only two and netting just three points in the opening quarter. That was an ominous beginning in a sport that typically presents only so many golden opportunities.
Mark Anderson's sack of Drew Brees sent the ball bouncing free inside the New Orleans 40, but the Saints recovered after Adewale Ogunleye tried unsuccessfully to pick the ball up. Chris Harris stripped the ball from receiver Marques Colston, and Robbie Gould turned that into three points with a 19-yard field goal when the Bears ran six plays inside the New Orleans 10 but failed to get into the end zone.
Danieal Manning's fumble recovery on the ensuing kickoff set up the offense at the New Orleans 30, but that chance produced only three points in the next quarter after a three-and-out.
Field position still favored the Bears when Devin Hester returned a punt to the New Orleans 49, and a Rex Grossman pass to Desmond Clark gained 30 yards to the 19. Cedric Benson ran twice for a first-and-goal at the 8. But another trip deep into the red zone stalled, and Gould pushed the Bears' lead to 9-0.
The Bears scored on their fourth straight possession, finally a touchdown, when they handed the ball to Thomas Jones on eight straight carries from their 31. Jones broke a 33-yarder, the longest run of the season by a Bears back, and finished the drive slashing in behind the right side of the line for a 16-0 lead against a Saints team that appeared to be in jeopardy of crumbling.
But Brees showed why he is the Pro Bowl starter, completing 5 of 6 passes on the final drive, the last a 13-yarder to Colston for a score.
Momentum swung further to New Orleans when the Bears picked up a first down on the first play of the half, the faltered to four consecutive three-and-outs. Brees dumped a second-down pass to Reggie Bush, who outran the defense for 88 yards.
The longest scoring play in NFC championship history ended when he somersaulted into the end zone to bring the Saints within 16-14. Brad Maynard later provided the best offense of the quarter with a 51-yard punt out of bounds at the New Orleans 7.
Mark Anderson, Hunter Hillenmeyer and Adewale Ogunleye pressured Brees into an intentional grounding from the end zone for a safety that put the Bears back up by more than a field goal at 18-14 as they seized the momentum.
A third quarter in which the offense bumbled aimlessly turned around dramatically when Grossman ended the period with two completions, then threw 12 yards to the New Orleans 33 on the first play of the fourth quarter.
With the line picking up two blitzing linebackers, Grossman lofted a ball down the deep left side toward Berrian, who had beaten cornerback Fred Thomas cleanly off the line. At the 5 Berrian adjusted to the ball and caught it over Thomas as he fell to the ground. Berrian got up and carried it into the end zone for an 11-point lead.
Ogunleye needed just one play to sack Brees, force a fumble and recover it at the New Orleans 26. Four plays later, Cedric Benson bulled 12 yards through a hole behind center Olin Kreutz and put the Bears up 32-14. Jones' 15-yard bolt around left end was an exclamation point.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times