By Paul M. Banks
All season long quarterback Kyle Orton and rookie tailback Matt Forte have carried the Chicago Bears offense. Given how the teamâ€™s wide receivers unit is arguably among the worst in league history, theyâ€™ve had to. Orton headed into Thursday a respectable seventh in the NFC in touchdown passes with about twice as many td tosses as interceptions. Overall heâ€™s been a pleasant surprise; especially given how much the mistakes of his wide receivers have ruined his statistics. (One of his interceptions Thursday night came off the hands of Rashied Davis, who has struggled mightily with drops all season.)
However, this game was one of Ortonâ€™s worst in 2008: he completed 24 of 40 for just 172 yards, no touchdowns, two picks and a 49.2 rating. For most of the season Orton has done a good job consistently finding Forte, the teamâ€™s leading receiver as well as tight ends Greg Olsen and Desmond Clark, the teamâ€™s third and fourth leading receivers. Versus New Orleans the trio had just 85 combined receiving yards averaging an awful 5 yards per catch. Matt Forte struggled on the ground too, accruing just 34 yards on 11 carries. He came in as the leagueâ€™s 7th leading rusher and a league-leading 39% of his teamâ€™s offensive production.
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The Bears compensated with defense as they harassed the leagueâ€™s leading passer, Drew Brees into a first half with a QB rating as low as Ortonâ€™s. Chicago also lived on their special teams as Danieal Manning returned the opening kickoff 83 yards for a touchdown and set up the second with a 52-yarder early in the second quarter.
Forte was upstaged by Saints tailback Pierre Thomas. The University of Illinois and south suburban Lansing product had 22 carries for 87 yards and a touchdown- career long 42 yarder; also adding a TD catch and 59 yards receiving. Thomas loves playing near his roots- last year he became the first rookie ever to gain 100 yards both rushing and receiving in the same game against the Bears.