Bears march over Saints for NFC title

Associated Press
Chicago Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher (54) holds the George Halas Trophy after the Bears beat the New Orleans Saints 39-14 to win the NFC championship Sunday, Jan. 21, 2007, in Chicago.

CHICAGO - Relax, Chicago. Rex Grossman and Da Bears are indeed good enough for this Super Bowl, and they've already made it a historic one.

Few teams with such an impressive record have been as questioned, even maligned as the Bears. Yet after romping past the New Orleans Saints 39-14 on Sunday, they are headed to their first NFL title game since the 1985 team overwhelmed the league and shuffled in under Mike Ditka and Jim McMahon.

This time, Lovie Smith will lead them there, the first black head coach to make it to the title game in its 41 years.

They did it in true Bears fashion - big plays on defense and a steady running game in the sleet and snow, ending the Saints' uplifting saga.

The Bears (15-3) will play either the Patriots or Colts, who met for the AFC title later Sunday, in Miami in two weeks.

All the worries about how genuine the Bears' outstanding season was disappeared thanks to running back Thomas Jones, All-Pro kicker Robbie Gould and a defense that, while not dominant, made enough decisive plays.

For a moment, though, in the third quarter they seemed to be in trouble.

Reggie Bush's electrifying 88-yard touchdown catch and dash to the end zone pulled the Saints within two points, 16-14. But from then on, Brian Urlacher and the Bears' defense took over.

Chicago, which has won nine NFL titles but has been an also-ran for much of the last two decades, later went 85 yards in five plays in the worst of the weather. Often-criticized Grossman had four completions, including a 33-yarder to a diving Bernard Berrian that clinched it, sending the bundled-up fans in Soldier Field into foot-stomping hysteria and chants of "Super Bowl, Super Bowl."

Jones had all 69 yards on an eight-play ground drive in the second quarter, scored twice and rushed for 123 yards. Gould nailed three field goals.

The Bears, who led the league with 44 takeaways, forced four turnovers, and when NFC passing leader Drew Brees fumbled less than a minute after Berrian's TD, whatever karma the Saints (11-7) carried this season disappeared.

Cedric Benson scored on a 12-yard run, and from there it was a matter of searching for the sunscreen.

Smith and Bears owner Virginia McCaskey, daughter of Bears founder George Halas, accepted the Halas Trophy moments after Grossman tossed the ball deep into the stands after the final kneel-down.

It was a bitter, sloppy conclusion to the Saints' remarkable turnaround from a nomadic 3-13 season in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina's destruction to this winning season. As their city rebuilds, the team has provided an uplifting respite in the saga.

This was the first trip this far into the playoffs for the 40-year-old franchise, previously best known as the Aints, whose fans wore paper bags on their heads because the team was so bad.

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