NEW ORLEANS — Drew Brees will get to celebrate his 42nd birthday by preparing for yet another playoff matchup — and this one will include the only active NFL quarterback older than him.
Brees completed 28 of 39 passes for 265 yards, connecting with Michael Thomas and Latavius Murray for touchdowns, as the New Orleans Saints defeated the Chicago Bears 21-9 in an NFC wild-card playoff game Sunday.
The victory for the Saints (13-4) and Brees, who turns 42 on Friday, sets up a divisional round meeting next Sunday in the Superdome with Tampa Bay and 43-year-old quarterback Tom Brady, the six-time Super Bowl champion in his first season with the Buccaneers after 20 years with the New England Patriots.
The Saints swept their NFC South schedule on the way to the division title, and that included taking both regular-season matchups with the Bucs by double digits. Tampa Bay advanced with a 31-23 wild-card win at Washington on Saturday night.
"The minute that he signed with the Bucs and came to the division, you felt like that was going to be a team to contend with, that was going to be a team that would have playoff aspirations and beyond, just like us," Brees said of meeting Brady in the playoffs for the first time. "So I guess it was inevitable."
New Orleans running back Alvin Kamara rushed for 99 yards, including a 3-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter, after sitting out the regular-season finale and not practicing this past week after testing positive for COVID-19.
"I was fine, no real symptoms," Kamara said of his absence. "I got a bye week. It's like, you have no choice but to sit and recover and get your body back right. I felt good."
The Bears (8-9) put forth a scrappy performance on defense that prevented the Saints from building more than a one-touchdown lead until Murray's 6-yard touchdown catch made it 14-3 late in the third quarter. That score resulted from a big Bears mistake: Safety Eddie Jackson, lined up for an apparent blitz, jumped offside on fourth-and-3 from the Chicago 13-yard line.
"It was basically a no-brainer freeze. We were just going to take a delay (of game) and then kick the field goal," Saints coach Sean Payton said. "It worked pretty well."
Two plays later, Brees scrambled right and spotted Murray waving for the ball. He sent a short touch pass over onrushing linebacker Khalil Mack, and Murray sprinted straight to the goal line, diving through converging tacklers to reach the end zone.
Brees' first touchdown pass in the opening quarter was 11 yards over the middle to Thomas, back from a three-game absence to help heal a nagging ankle injury. The NFL's reigning offensive player of the year missed nine games this season and had not caught a touchdown pass since December 2019.
"He had a few big plays for us, and he's going to continue to have more and more big plays," Payton said. "I'm glad that he had that time to really stay off his ankle. And I know it's not 100%, but, man, he's going to be significant for us in all of these games."
Thomas finished with five catches for 73 yards and Deonte Harris, back from a neck injury, had seven for 83.
Tashaun Gipson set up Chicago's first points and might have prevented a Saints score on the same play. He got his hand on the ball as Taysom Hill attempted to throw deep. The ball fluttered a few yards, and defensive lineman John Jenkins caught it, setting up Cairo Santos' 36-yard field goal to make it 7-3.
Chicago's offense struggled against a defense ranked fourth in the NFL, though, with Mitch Trubisky 19-of-29 passing for 199 yards and one inconsequential touchdown to Jimmy Graham as time expired. The Bears were held to 48 yards on the ground.
"Making the playoffs is great, but what we did today has to be a lot better," Trubisky said. "Today wasn't good enough. And you look at a team like the Saints that has been there, done that on the coaching side, player wise. I think that that's a start for us to realize, 'You want to go ahead and do damage in the playoffs, you can see situationally, discipline wise, all that stuff, how we've got to be better.' "
The Saints had never allowed fewer than 14 points in a playoff game.
"Our defense played outstanding," Payton said. "We tackled well in space. Ultimately we forced them to become one-dimensional, and when you do that you're going to win a lot of games."