Chicago, IL (SportsNetwork.com) - Drew Brees threw three touchdown passes in his 200th career game and the New Orleans Saints vaulted into first place in the NFC South with a 31-15 victory over the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field on Monday.
The Saints (6-8) climbed a half-game over the Carolina Panthers for the top spot in the woeful division and control their own destiny with two games remaining against division foes Atlanta and Tampa Bay.
"You want to be playing for a lot at the end of the season and we are right now," Brees said. "No bigger game than the one coming up."
Brees completed 29-of-36 passes for 375 yards and set an NFL record with his ninth straight season with at least 4,000 yards passing.
Josh Hill caught two scores, Marques Colston finished with five catches for 65 yards and a touchdown and Mark Ingram ran in a late score.
"We were pretty balanced and able to make some plays in the passing game," said Brees. "It was a great team effort. The defense really stepped up and played great."
Jay Cutler turned in a sub-par performance as he threw for just 194 yards on 17-of-31 passing with two touchdown passes and three interceptions for the Bears (5-9), who have dropped their last three games.
Alshon Jeffrey and Marquess Wilson each hauled in a touchdown pass in the loss.
"Overall, I just feel that we need passion to come from certain places and I don't think the passion is always there all the time," Bears tight end Martellus Bennett said.
New Orleans had the ball to start the second half and embarked on a 12-play, 80-yard scoring march. Graham made a 29-yard catch to move the Saints into their opponents' territory, Kenny Stills came up with a 13-yard grab on third down and Hill found the end zone again from seven yards out for a 21-0 lead.
The teams traded punts and the Bears started at their own 20. Cutler dropped off a pass to Bennett, who took it 12 yards for a first down. Three plays later, Cutler's deep pass intended for Alshon Jeffery was intercepted by Pierre Warren, who took it back 21 yards to the Saints 44.
On the ensuing drive, Brees eluded a diving defender, rolled out to his left and delivered a 17-yard strike to Nick Toon down to Chicago's 4 on third down. The Saints settled for Shayne Graham's 25-yard field goal for a 24-0 lead with 16 seconds remaining in the third.
Chicago avoided a shutout as Wilson scored on a slant from a yard out just over two minutes into the fourth quarter. Cutler connected with Bennett on the 2-point conversion attempt.
Following a Saints punt, Cutler scrambled 20 yards on third down for a fresh set of downs, but he was sacked on the next two plays to make it 3rd-and-21. Cutler connected with Bennett on an 8-yard pass, but after a false start, the Bears punted the ball away with just 5:26 remaining.
After the Bears turned the ball over on downs at their own 23, Ingram followed two straight 4-yard rushes with a 15-yard scamper into the end zone with 1:47 to play.
Down by 23 points, Chicago put together one of its more efficient drives of the night with under two minutes to play. Jeffery took a short pass 35 yards, Ka'Deem Carey made 18-yard catch and Jeffery ended the 4-play, 71-yard drive with a TD catch from seven yards out.
Both teams turned the ball over on their opening possession.
On the third play of the game, Bennett couldn't haul in Cutler's pass over the middle and Patrick Robinson intercepted the ball at the Bears' 24. Two plays later, Toon made an 11-yard grab, but fumbled the ball at the 3-yard line and Jared Allen recovered it for Chicago.
After the Bears punted the ball away, the Saints' drive stalled and Graham came on for a 51-yard field goal attempt. The New Orleans kicker originally slipped and never got a kick off, but offsetting penalties gave him a second chance. Graham pulled his second try wide right with 8:26 to play in the first quarter.
Pierre Thomas took a screen pass 31 yards into Bears territory. Brees capped the 7-play, 85-yard drive by dumping off an 8-yard pass off to Hill, who dove into the end zone for a 7-0 lead eight seconds into the second quarter.
The Saints increased their lead late in the second after going 95 yards in 10 plays on a drive that featured three catches from Colston.
Brees hit Colston for a 13-yard pickup, Stills hauled in a 16-yard strike and Colston moved the Saints to the Bears' 9 with a 13-yard catch before scoring on the very next play for a 14-0 game with 32 seconds to play in the first half.
The first half closed similar to how it opened as Cutler's bomb down the left side was intercepted by Warren.
Brees has thrown at least 30 touchdowns passes in seven straight seasons ... The Bears are now 5-of-5 on two-point conversions this season ... Brees and Colston tied Peyton Manning and Reggie Wayne for the fifth best scoring duo in NFL history with 67 scores ... Saints linebacker David Hawthorne finished with three sacks to lead his defense's seven-sack effort ... New Orleans owns a 14-13 edge in the all-time regular-season series ... Ingram ran for 59 yards on 17 carries, while Graham made five grabs for 87 yards ... The Saints outgained the Bears, 443-278.