NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Derek Carr and the New Orleans Saints have a chance to turn a corner in their up-and-down season and reassert themselves as a leading contender in the NFC South.
The next test for New Orleans (4-4) comes Sunday in the Superdome against the struggling Chicago Bears (2-6), who'll again play without injured starting quarterback Justin Fields and who also fired an offensive assistant coach this week.
The roster and staff upheaval in Chicago could bode well for the Saints, but that's not the way Carr sees it. His focus is on a Bears defense which ranks third in the NFL against the run and might be better against the pass after acquiring defensive end Montez Sweat from Washington before this week's NFL trade deadline.
“If you don't bring it in this league, you're going to get beat," Carr said. "So, our mindset is to treat every game the same, no matter what someone's record is or what they're dealing with.”
The Bears rank 30th against the pass, which can be hard to stop when quarterbacks aren't feeling pressure. Chicago's 10 sacks rank last in the NFL — no other team has fewer than 15. Sweat has 6 1/2 sacks this season and 35 1/2 in his 4 1/2 NFL seasons.
“He’s one heck of a pass rusher,” Bears coach Matt Eberflus said, stressing that Sweat also is "a really good run player and plays with a great motor.”
Meanwhile, the Saints offense has started to take off — at least statistically — in recent weeks.
New Orleans has gained more than 400 yards in three straight games, with Carr passing for more than 300 yards each time. But the Saints lost the first two games in that stretch because of repeatedly squandered scoring chances deep in opponents' territory.
That changed in Indianapolis last week, when the Saints offense accounted for a season-high five TDs. Now they aim to show that was more than just one good day.
“Our biggest issue right now is stringing things together,” Saints tight end Foster Moreau said. “This was a big week of practice for us to try to get on to some sort of winning streak.”
With Fields sidelined because of a dislocated right thumb, rookie Tyson Bagent is set to make his third straight start.
The undrafted rookie from Division II Shepherd University in his home state of West Virginia has been a fun story. But his results are mixed.
“Repetition is the mother of all learners, so the more reps I can get at this full speed in the game, I’m sure the more comfortable I’ll be,” he said.
Bagent delivered a solid performance in a win over the Las Vegas Raiders. But he had some rough moments against the Los Angeles Chargers last week. Bagent is 56 of 80 for 477 yards, one touchdown, three interceptions and a 73.8 passer rating since Fields was injured in the third quarter of a Week 6 loss to Minnesota.
The Saints have had to shuffle their offensive line because of a combination of injuries and performance issues.
But the unit had one of its better games last week and now looks to be getting healthier. James Hurst returned to practice after he missed two full games with an ankle injury that occurred right after he'd moved from guard to left tackle.
Hurst had been asked to block the edge after 2022 first-round draft choice Trevor Penning struggled early this season, leading coaches to bench him. When Hurst went out, Adrus Peat moved from left guard to tackle and reserve Max Garcia stepped in at guard.
“Last week we played really well. It's a confidence boost for all of us that we can put that tape on and see how dominant we can be,” right tackle Ryan Ramczyk said. “We showed what we can be, what we want to be and what we can continue to be.”
The Bears had quite a week.
In addition to acquiring Sweat from Washington for a 2024 second-round pick, they hung onto cornerback Jaylon Johnson after letting him explore deals with other teams.
On Wednesday, they fired running backs coach David Walker, leaving them down two assistants after defensive coordinator Alan Williams resigned in September.
Johnson, meanwhile, said he was surprised he was still with the Bears. He and general manager Ryan Poles remain in a standoff with his rookie deal set to expire.
Sweat also has an expiring deal. And if he gets an extension before Johnson, things could get real interesting.
Saints coach Dennis Allen criticized himself this week for a recent trend that has seen New Orleans give up big plays and points early before shoring up in the second half.
“I've got to do a better job getting our guys ready to play to start the game,” said Allen, whose team has given up 54 first-half points and 17 second-half points in their past three games combined. “I've got to kind of look at what I'm doing, what I'm calling.”
Safety Tyrann Mathieu said New Orleans' defense has been more reactive to “new wrinkles” teams have been throwing at them recently instead of being the tone-setters themselves.
“We've got a good defense. So, we shouldn't wait around for them to show us something," Mathieu said. "We should bring a party to their front door.”
AP Sports Writer Andrew Seligman contributed from Lake Forest, Illinois.
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