Saints' Zellars surprises Bears with stellar day
Author(s): Joe Bush Daily Herald Sports Writer
Date: October 14, 1996
NEW ORLEANS - If you were an NFL running back looking to raise some eyebrows or resurrect a career this season, you wanted to play against the Saints. Arizona's LeShon Johnson made a name for himself with 214 yards in a Cardinals' victory. A week later, dinosaur back Earnest Byner threw away the cane and ran for 149 yards in Baltimore's win over the Saints.
This week, Ray Zellars was glad to play with the Saints. Like Johnson, Zellars may never gain more yards in one game than the 174 he produced Sunday against the Bears.
A combination of Zellars' fierce running, poor tackling by the Bears and the Saints' physical beating of the Bears' front seven gave the Bears the same run-over feeling the Saints had known so well.
''Defensively, we (stunk)," Bears linebacker Joe Cain said. ''It's probably the lowest point since I've been here."
The Saints came into the contest ranked last in the league in rushing yards, while Zellars entered the game off a one-game suspension for saying something which rhymes with truck stew to Saints coach Jim Mora in practice a week and a half ago.
That made waves in New Orleans, but the ripples didn't reach Chicago. The Bears didn't know much about the 44th pick in the 1995 draft. After all, Zellars ran for 162 yards in his rookie year and had gained 80 yards on 19 carries thus far this season.
''What I knew about him was the fact that the fullback didn't get many carries," Bears linebacker Bryan Cox said. ''They came out and used him in a light that we hadn't seen. They put him in a one-back set where (tailback) Mario Bates would normally be. They let him go there and said 'Let's just try to outhphysical these guys.' They did.
''This is the first week that you can honestly look in the mirror and say that in the front seven, they outphysicaled us."
Zellars gained 137 of his yards in the second half, as Bates (4 rushes, 1 yard) didn't play after the first half. Zellars made runs of 10, 13 and 11 yards on a second-half opening drive, which ended with a Doug Brien field goal to cut the Bears lead to 17-10.
A 63-yard Zellars run set up a 5-yard touchdown pass to tie the score at 17-17 halfway though the third quarter. He followed with runs of 13 and 21 yards, each of which spurred a scoring drive. The 21-yarder put the Saints at the Bears' 42 three plays before Brien's game-winning kick.
''To me it's a reflection of the defensive line," said defensive tackle Carl Simpson, whose 2 fumble recoveries were overshadowed by Zellars' day and the loss.
''I could've played a whole lot better, and I'm sure the other guys on the front feel the same way. I ain't going to say they just beat us, but they got good blocks on us and they held us up enough where he could get by.
''People will try to use this against us, so we've got to get better. We've got to use this off week to get better."
Consider Cox' eyebrows raised, and with a two-game winning streak, perhaps the Saints' season is resurrected.
''Ray Zellars just had a great day," Cox said. ''He's a power runner, and did a good job breaking tackles. He ran with a lot of power and a lot of enthusiasm."
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