Standing on the sideline with his team down 20-0, New Orleans coach Jim Haslett turned to quarterback Aaron Brooks and said, "Are you scared?"
Brooks, a fourth-year player out of Virginia, laughed and replied: "Please. We're going to win this game."
Two quarters later, with the clock ticking down, a hostile crowd of 63,216 at Memorial Stadium hooting at him and the Saints trailing by two points, Brooks calmly led his team on a 73-yard touchdown drive to beat the Bears 29-23.
"Aaron took control," Haslett said.
On a day when running back Deuce McAllister was limited to 45 yards on 17 attempts, Brooks displayed more of a kinship with John Elway than with cousin Michael Vick, who had his own chance to rally the Falcons against the Bears a week earlier and failed.
The Saints seemed doomed barely 18 minutes into the game. But Brooks, who completed 22-of-34 throws for 233 yards and three touchdowns and ran for another, said it's important not to show distress if he's going to be a leader.
"I knew it couldn't faze me," Brooks said. "I wanted to show by my actions so it wouldn't faze [his teammates] either."
Certainly, the Saints organization is counting on that type of behavior. That's why it rewarded Brooks with a six-year, $36 million contract before the season. Sunday was an earn-your-money test.
The Saints began overcoming their somnambulant tendencies with less than 12 minutes left in the half when Brooks engineered an eight-play, 84-yard drive. He hit receiver Jerome Pathon with a 16-yard strike in the end zone.
"It was important," Pathon said. "It says, 'This is who we are. This is what we can do.' Sometimes it goes like that (getting down 20-0). Things can go awry. The key is how you bounce back from adversity."
Long drives were the hallmark of the Saints' comeback. New Orleans started the third quarter with a 12-play, 65-yard touchdown drive that consumed 6 minutes 45 minutes and gave the Saints their first lead at 21-20. Brooks passed 5 yards to showboating Joe Horn, who celebrated his score with a Michael Jackson moonwalk.
"It was all fun," said Horn, who claimed the Saints looked into the eyes of Bears defenders and saw that they were tired. "They had fun, too, but they lost."
In a casual tone, while noting that Brooks is a good player, Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher said, "He's not Michael Vick, but he moves around pretty well in the pocket."
This was reported back to Brooks as him being characterized as "no Michael Vick."
Not naturally a babbling Brooks, the quarterback still felt compelled to defend himself.
"He's a darned good linebacker," Brooks said.
"I think he saw something today he wasn't ready for."
None of the Bears seemed ready for the Saints' winning drive. There was 3:12 on the clock when New Orleans took over, behind 23-21, on its own 27.
"Move the chains, move the chains," Horn said of the strategy.
Brooks brought the Saints to the end zone in 2:01, completing four passes of 9 yards or longer and running for 14 yards. He hit Tennessee rookie Donté Stallworth for a 29-yard TD, then added the two-point conversion himself on a draw.
On the winning touchdown, Stallworth faked out Bears cornerback Reggie Austin and turned on the speed to reach the end zone.
"A.B. threw a great ball," Stallworth said. "I almost stumbled."
By then, the Saints' stumbling was in the rearview mirror.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun