Bailey Leon, girl who received game ball from Saints coach Sean Payton after the Bears win, died Thursday _lowres

Associated Press photo by CHARLES REX ARBOGAST -- New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton watches during the first half against the Chicago Bears on Monday.


Nothing. The Saints were fortunate the schedule set them up to play against another mediocre team in the Chicago Bears, who had just as many if not more issues as they did. Chicago played like the Berenstain Bears. The Saints also got an assist from Mother Nature, who provided the cold, wet weather that helped slow down the Chicago offense. The only good thing about this game for New Orleans is that the Saints got the win they needed to take over sole possession of first place in the NFC South and no future Christmas presents were based on the quality of this game.


Credit Saints coach Sean Payton for having the courage to make the changes to jump-start his team, but the Bears are so bad it’s hard to tell if the moves really paid off. The only thing Payton’s moves did was send a message to the players that they had to step up their game. The bad news for the Saints is that Payton and his late-season, send-a-message-to-the-players moves are starting to become an annual occurrence.


Saints placekicker Shayne Graham missed a field goal in last week’s loss, and the team tried out placekickers on his off day. Graham missed another kick Monday — a 51-yard try in the first quarter (later making a 25-yarder in the third quarter). Graham has been good enough this season (19-for-22) not to have to worry about losing his job with every miss. But considering Payton’s lack of patience with placekickers, look for him to try out more placekickers this week.


Credit Brees for giving New Orleans the solid leadership and play it desperately needed Monday. A bad game from him could have cost the Saints the game and ended their division title hopes. Instead, he made good decisions and good plays. It was just what his team needed. This was the kind of game that reminds people how special Brees can be when he plays under control and doesn’t force things.


Even Stevie Wonder can see this was the kind of game that gets players benched and coaches fired. There is no way Chicago can keep Marc Trestman as its coach based on this game. Bears quarterback Jay Cutler, who deserved to be benched during the game and probably would have had he not signed a hefty contract, is a modern-day Jeff George.


The Saints’ seven-play, 85-yard touchdown drive to take a 7-0 lead in the second quarter was just good, tough football. Brees threw an 8-yard TD pass to tight end Josh Hill on a misdirection play and was efficient. There also was good balance. This drive set the tone for the game.


The Saints host the Atlanta Falcons in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Sunday.