CHICAGO -- New Orleans Saints defensive back Robert Massey limped toward the locker room yesterday, his face twisted in pain. Teammate Buford Jordan slapped him on his rear. They both grimaced.
If Massey hadn't lined up offside in the third quarter and nullified a 61-yard touchdown run by teammate Vince Buck on a blocked field goal, it might have ended differently.
"That was big, really big," Chicago quarterback Mike Tomczak said. "It gives us some momentum. But just because we beat the New Orleans Saints today doesn't mean we're going to beat the Giants at Giants Stadium. It's just an opportunity."
Indeed, the Bears, who have won two of their past five games, will play the Giants on Sunday at Giants Stadium. The winner will advance to the NFC championship game against the winner between the San Francisco 49ers and Washington Redskins.
Neither team was especially efficient on offense, but the Bears looked like a team that had played in 23 playoff games. They didn't compromise their chances with mistakes.
The Saints, meanwhile, looked like a team that had played one playoff game. As a franchise, New Orleans is 0-for-2. It was fairly grim:
* The Saints defense allowed Chicago running back Neal Anderson to run, catch and pass for 166 combined yards.
* The New Orleans offense permitted Bears tackle Steve McMichael to wrestle starting quarterback Steve Walsh to the ground, thus separating his throwing shoulder and sending him out of the game. Well-traveled John Fourcade was his replacement.
* Place-kicker Morten Andersen, the second-most accurate place-kicker in league history, missed a 41-yard field-goal attempt.
The Massey penalty turned the game.
With Chicago attempting a 45-yard field goal that would have given the Bears a 13-3 lead, kicker Kevin Butler was the victim of a bad snap and hold. The low kick was blocked by defensive end Renaldo Turnbull. The ball bounced free and was scooped up by Buck, who sprinted 61 yards for the apparent tying touchdown.
An official's flag got one of the day's biggest hands from the spectators. In his zeal to block the kick, Massey lined up offside, his hands clearly over the line of scrimmage.
It was a 10-point play, because the Bears were permitted to continue what amounted to an 8-minute, 31-second drive for a 22-yard field goal by Butler.
"No comments," Massey told an advancing group of reporters after the game. "None. I don't feel like talking."
Buck, however, did.
"I line up on the opposite side of Robert [left]," he said, "and it's my job to see if anyone's offside. It never happened.
"When I saw the flag, I couldn't believe it. It's an empty feeling."
There was a modicum of drama midway through the fourth quarter. The Saints, trailing, 13-3, found themselves on the Chicago 2-yard line with a first-and-goal. Two pass-interference calls on rookie safety Mark Carrier had brought them to that point.
On first down, Dalton Hilliard was escorted out of bounds by half the Bears defense for a 3-yard loss. On second down, Fourcade rolled right, but his hard pass glanced off the hands of running back Craig "Ironhead" Heyward in the end zone. On third down, Fourcade stumbled around before defensive end Trace Armstrong put him out of his misery with a 16-yard sack.
"I was looking for Eric [Martin] first and Hoby [Brenner] second," Fourcade said. "I didn't see them, so I went backside hoping I could find Dalton [Hilliard]. But it was too late."
The Saints defense, which spent 37 minutes, 31 seconds on the field, has been frustrated all season by the impotent offense.
"You've got to come out of there with some points," Saints linebacker Rickey Jackson said. "We held them to 16 points, and you're looking for the offense to get 17 to 20."
Andersen ultimately kicked a 38-yard field goal, but it wasn't enough. Trailing by a touchdown, the Saints had another chance to get even, but Tomczak made another pressure play. He found Dennis Gentry with a 38-yard pass on third-and-11 at the Bears 19. That kept the ball out of New Orleans' hands until it was too late.
Tomczak allowed the Bears defense to control the game. He completed only five of 23 passes a week ago, but, against the Saints, he was 12-for-25 for 166 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions.
"It's nice," Tomczak said. "But we'll have to play a lot better to beat the Giants."
New Orleans 0 3 0 3 6
Chicago 3 7 3 3 16
First quarter ChiFG Butler 19, 4:54.
Second quarter ChiThornton 18 pass from Tomczak (Butler kick), 1:51.
NOFG Andersen 47, 13:22.
Third quarter ChiFG Butler 22, 8:31.
Fourth quarter NOFG Andersen 38, 9:08.
ChiFG Butler 21, 12:13.
First downs 11 18
Rushes-yards 18-65 43-189
Passing 128 176
Return yards 2 49
Comp-att-int 11-34-3 13-26-0
Sacked-yards lost 2-25 2-12
Punts 3-30 2-28
Fumbles-lost 1-0 2-1
Penalties-yards 2-10 7-57
Time of possession 22:29 37:31
RUSHING--New Orleans, Fenerty 8-29, Fourcade 2-13, Hillard 4-13, Heyward 4-10. Chicago, Anderson 27-102, Muster 12-71, Tomczak 2-8, Green 2-8.
PASSING--New Orleans, Walsh 6-16-1-74, Fourcade 5-18-2-79. Chicago, Tomczak 12-25-0-166, Anderson 1-1-0-22.
RECEIVING--New Orleans, Fenerty 4-22, Martin 2-47, Scales 1-31, Tice 1-19, Brenner 1-17, Perriman 1-11, Turner 1-6. Chicago, Anderson 4-42, Thornton 2-43, Gentry 2-41, Morris 2-28, Muster 2-21, Davis 1-13.
MISSED FIELD GOALS--New Orleans, Andersen 41. Chicago, Butler 36.