CHICAGO - Turns out all Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints needed to solve their problems was to show up in Chicago.
Nothing like playing the Bears to break a slump. Even better, the Saints jumped into first place.
Brees threw for 375 yards and three touchdowns, and New Orleans beat Chicago 31-15 on Monday night to grab the NFC South lead.
The Saints (6-8) moved into first place ahead of Carolina (5-8-1) and Atlanta (5-9) after losing four of their previous five games. They also rebounded from a 41-10 loss to the Panthers.
“I think we’ve shown a couple times we can handle adversity,” Brees said. “Let’s make sure we can handle success, too.”
The Saints host the Falcons before finishing the season at Tampa Bay.
“The tendency after success is to relax, and it’s not time to relax,” Brees said.
Brees completed 29 of 36 passes and reached the 4,000-yard mark for the ninth straight year. He threw two touchdown passes to Josh Hill and another to Marques Colston.
Pierre Thomas had five catches for 83 yards. David Hawthorne had three of New Orleans’ seven sacks and the Saints intercepted Jay Cutler three times to bring his NFL-leading turnover total to 24.
“We were not in unison tonight collectively on the offensive side of the ball and that starts with me,” Chicago coach Marc Trestman said.
For the Bears (5-9), the loss comes after a week in which they were again engulfed in controversy. Offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer acknowledged he was a source behind a critical report by the NFL Network about Cutler, owning up to it in public Friday after earlier asking players and coaches for forgiveness.
Cutler completed 17 of 31 passes for 194 yards, and the Bears couldn’t get anything going. They managed only 278 yards against one of the league’s worst defenses on a soggy night in which thousands of seats went unused.
There were 10,749 no-shows, and that might not have been a bad thing for the Bears, the way they played.
The Saints went ahead in the second quarter after wasting several opportunities in the opening period. Bears cornerback Kyle Fuller was called for a 17-yard pass-interference penalty trying to defend Jimmy Graham, setting up New Orleans with a first down at the 8.
Brees then rolled to his right on the first play of the second quarter and found an open Hill, who lunged across the goal line.
The first half was so bad for Chicago that its best play might have been Patrick O’Donnell’s 56-yard punt that went out of bounds at the New Orleans 5 with about four minutes left in the second. But the Saints responded with a 10-play, 95-yard drive.
Brees threw a 9-yard touchdown pass to Colston with 38 seconds left, giving the Saints a 14-0 lead. Cutler’s pass was then picked off by Pierre Warren on the final play in the half.
Brees and Hill connected for a 7-yard TD on their first possession in the third on a similar play as their first score, making it 21-0. It was 24-0 early in the fourth when Cutler hit Marquess Wilson with a 1-yard touchdown pass, denying New Orleans its first shutout since 2012.
The Saints wasted a big scoring opportunity in the early going.
New Orleans took over at the Chicago 24 after Patrick Robinson intercepted a pass that went off Martellus Bennett’s hands on the game’s third play from scrimmage. Rather than grab the lead, the Saints quickly gave the ball back.
Nick Toon got stripped by Brock Vereen after a 10-yard reception and Jared Allen made the recovery at the 3.
The Saints came away empty-handed on their next possession when Shayne Graham’s 51-yard field-goal attempt fell short. But New Orleans eventually found its stride.
“I think there’s a sense of urgency that we need to create each week, and we need to be mindful of how important that edge is to play well,” coach Sean Payton said. “It’s something we made a point of emphasis with everyone.”