Pat O’Donnell knew what he had to do — beat a half-dozen Saints to the ball in the end zone.
O’Donnell had his first punt of Sunday’s debacle blocked. The ball bounced into the south end zone, with a phalanx of Saints chasing after it. J.T. Gray, who blocked the kick, slid after the ball — and whiffed. O’Donnell did, too, but, laying on the ground, he batted the ball with his right arm through the back of the end zone.
That was a flag, technically, but the smart play, even if it awarded the Saints a safety about 90 seconds into the game.
“I was just thinking, ‘Bat it through the back,’” O’Donnell said. “We’ll take a safety over six points. It was one of those plays where you just got to make the best of it.”
Gray ran untouched to block the punt, stunting from the left to rush between the Bears’ right guard and tackle.
“It was a ‘looper,’” O’Donnell said. “So he came free.”
Saints coach Sean Payton said the Saints rushed eight, thought it wasn’t a called block play.
Matt Nagy acknowledged his punt team’s struggles after the game.
“Yeah, there’s issues, right?” he said. “So any time you have that, you want to, you’ve got to fix it. You can’t have those issues.”
The Bears’ punt team had an eventful day.
“I think the guys will be the first to tell you that we gotta be a little more stout,” O’Donnell said.
In the second quarter, O’Donnell though the Bears would benefit from a running into the kicker penalty — the same one that might have cost them the win against the Raiders — but his punt was ruled to have been tipped, making contact legal.
They allowed a 67-yard return to Deonte Harris with 15 seconds left in the first half, only for the come back because of a holding call on Saints fullback Zach Line.
“I thought the call at the end of the first half on the punt return was terrible,” Payton said. “It should have been a touchdown.”