(TSX / STATS) — NEW ORLEANS — Under head coach Sean Payton, the New Orleans Saints have built a reputation for winning primarily with a high-energy offense, but their vastly improved defense made several critical stops and covered up for fumble-prone Mark Ingram II on Sunday in holding off the Chicago Bears 20-12 for their first five-game winning streak since 2013.
Ingram fumbled twice in the last 7:35, giving the Bears a chance to steal a game the Saints led 17-6 midway through the fourth quarter.
Chicago (3-5) cut the deficit to 17-12 on Tarik Cohen’s 1-yard dive with 3:58 left, but safety Marcus Williams broke up an end-zone pass by quarterback Mitchell Trubisky on a 2-point conversion that would have cut the lead to three.
After another Ingram fumble with 2:12 left — a strip and recovery by strong safety Adrian Amos — the Saints’ defense held on fourth down, stopping Chicago on third-and-1 and fourth-and-1 at its 39-yard line, forcing Trubisky into two incompletions.
Wil Lutz gave the Saints some breathing room with a 49-yard field goal with 1:35 left, extending the New Orleans lead to 20-12.
The Saints’ defense then iced the game when rookie cornerback Marshon Lattimore made a diving interception of a Trubisky pass with 71 seconds left.
“I was whack, I sucked,” said Ingram, whose solid 75-yard rushing performance on 18 carries was marred by his two late strip-fumbles. “The bottom line is I was terrible today. The only reason the game was close was because of me. But I’ll bounce back.”
To understand how much the Saints (5-2) have improved on defense, consider this: They have turned the ball over seven times in their last three victories, and Sunday’s win marked the first time since 2009 that they have won without Brees throwing a touchdown pass.
“We’re playing really complementary football,” said Brees, who took few chances against the aggressive Bears defense but still completed 23 of 28 passes for 299 yards. “Offensively, I felt we had good balance. It was closer than it needed to be with the two turnovers, but the defense came up with some huge stops.”
While Payton was thrilled with the Saints’ five-game winning streak, he said he wasn’t pleased with the sloppy play down the stretch.
“We found a way to make it interesting,” Payton said. “We’re going to have to clean up those mistakes, because those are going to hurt us when we play better teams.
“Fortunately, our defense did a great job creating turnovers, and we had a couple of other ball opportunities. It’s significant to turn the ball over like we did. You really don’t deserve to win games like that. You can’t do it.”
The Saints appeared to be moving for the clinching score when Brees connected with Ted Ginn Jr. on a 53-yard pass to the Chicago 26, but Ingram was stripped again of the ball.
“All in all, I thought it was a great effort by our football team,” Chicago head coach John Fox said. “We had plenty of opportunities. We just came up a little short.”
Bears tight end Zach Miller suffered a serious dislocation of his left knee in the third quarter on what at first was ruled a 25-yard touchdown catch on third-and-10, which would have moved Chicago within 14-10. Miller came down awkwardly on his left leg and lay motionless on the ground, but officials ruled on the field that he had come down with the catch.
After the review, referee Carl Cheffers reversed the touchdown call, saying Miller “went to the ground (and) temporarily lost control of the ball. The ball hit the ground; therefore, it is incomplete.”
The Bears settled for a 44-yard Connor Barth field goal and trailed 14-6 late in the third quarter.
Miller was taken to a local hospital.
He will be in our thoughts and prayers on the flight home,” Fox said. “He is a fantastic person. He’s a great teammate. He is loved in our locker room.”
Trubisky, making just his fourth NFL start, battled hard, completing 14 of 32 passes for 164 yards, and he showed his elusiveness on a 46-yard scamper on third-and-10 that set up Chicago’s final score.
“He’s young and athletic and good on the move,” Payton said. “I think he’s got a bright future.”
NOTES: The Saints inducted two new members into their Hall of Fame, LB Jonathan Vilma and G Carl Nicks. Both were a part of the Saints’ Super Bowl XLIII championship team in 2009. … The Bears lost RG Kyle Long (left hand), C Cody Whitehair (elbow) and LG Josh Sitton to injury and they did not return. … Saints QB Drew Brees needed 240 games for 6,000 career completions, the fastest to that mark in NFL history. He joins Brett Favre and Peyton Manning as the only NFL quarterbacks with at least 6,000 completions.