During a meeting last Wednesday morning, Bears coaches reminded their players not to allow Saints defensive back C.J. Gardner-Johnson to goad them into committing a penalty or worse in Sunday's Wild Card game.
During a Nov. 1 game at Soldier Field, Gardner-Johnson had yanked the mouthpiece off Bears receiver Javon Wims' facemask. After a play on the next possession, Wims punched Gardner-Johnson twice in the helmet, earning a 15-yard penalty, an ejection and a two-game suspension.
So the Bears knew exactly what to expect from Gardner-Johnson, a known agitator who was even punched by Saints teammate Michael Thomas during a practice in October. But that didn't prevent a nearly identical incident from occurring in Sunday's 21-9 playoff loss in New Orleans.
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After a play in the third quarter, it appeared that Gardner-Johnson was yapping at receiver Anthony Miller, who responded by punching the Saints defensive back in the helmet, earning a 15-yard penalty and an ejection. The Bears were already shorthanded at receiver with rookie Darnell Mooney inactive due to an ankle injury.
"We spent some time on Wednesday morning as a team," said coach Matt Nagy. "We spent time literally showing and explaining a particular player's actions in games and teaching it. That's taking 10 or 15 minutes out of your day, which is precious. So when you do that, I think that's a valuable lesson for our guys. Every action has a reaction, and so I think it's a valuable one, especially when we're low with numbers at the wide receiver position, and the value of that zebra position for us.
"We've all got to understand we've got to be stronger and we can't have that happen, and we've got to understand that. That's two times that that happened, and we just can't have it."
Not again: The Bears defense continued to struggle in two key areas Sunday, allowing the Saints to convert 11-of-17 third-down plays (65 percent) and score three touchdowns on four red-zone possessions (75 percent).
After ranking first in the NFL in both categories over their first eight games, the Bears ranked 31st in both over their final eight regular-season contests.
In the Nov. 1 game against the Saints at Soldier Field, a 26-23 overtime loss, the defense limited New Orleans to 2-of-13 on third down (15 percent) and just one touchdown on four trips inside-the-20 (25 percent).
The defense on Sunday played without inside linebacker Roquan Smith (elbow), cornerback Jaylon Johnson (shoulder) and nickel back Buster Skrine (concussion). Smith was replaced by veteran Manti Te'o, who registered six tackles in his Bears debut. Te'o was activated from the practice squad Saturday.
Tough sledding: The Bears running game mustered just 48 yards on 19 carries Sunday. David Montgomery was held to 31 yards on 12 carries, with a long run of only six yards. In the final six games of the regular season, the second-year pro had rushed for 598 yards and seven TDs on 116 attempts.
"Offensively, we struggled to get that run game going," Nagy said. "We've been a lot better[in] weeks prior and we were able to work off of our boots to our nakeds and our play-actions. We struggled a little bit there."
Sunday marked the first time in quarterback Mitchell Trubisky's 10 starts this season that the Bears didn't rush for at least 100 yards.
Trubisky completed 19 of 29 passes for 199 yards with one touchdown, no turnovers and a 96.8 passer rating. Allen Robinson II led the Bears in receiving with six receptions for 55 yards.
Feeling a Brees: Saints quarterback Drew Brees continued his dominance of the Bears, connecting on 28 of 39 passes for 265 yards with two touchdowns, no interceptions and a 107.3 passer rating.
Brees has now won six straight games against the Bears since 2011, completing 76.9 percent of his passes and averaging 296 yards per game with 12 touchdowns, no interceptions and a 118.9 passer rating.
Turnover time: The Bears lost for the first time this season when winning the turnover battle. In the regular season, they were 4-0 with a positive differential, 1-6 with a negative ratio and 3-2 when it was even.
The Bears produced the only turnover in Sunday's game on a strip/sack by blitzing safety Tashaun Gipson Sr. on Taysom Hill, forcing a fumble that defensive lineman John Jenkins recovered. It was the Bears' only sack of the game.