Bears put away Saints to boost playoff hopes

Robbie Gould and the Chicago Bears handed Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints another devastating loss at Soldier Field.

Gould kicked the tying field goal at the end of regulation and booted a 35-yarder in overtime to lift the Bears to a 27-24 victory on Thursday night, giving their playoff hopes a boost.

After leaving Chicago with season-ending losses the past two years, the Saints looked as if they were ready to end that trend. Instead, their slim playoff hopes took another blow.

Brees hit Marques Colston for an 11-yard touchdown pass with just over 3 minutes left in regulation to give New Orleans its first lead at 24-21 but Gould's 28-yard field goal as time expired sent the game into overtime.

The Bears won the coin toss, and got another big break when the Saints' Roman Harper bumped Devin Hester on a deep pass down the middle to set Chicago up at the 15. After Orton stumbled back and put the ball in the middle of the field, Gould ended it with a 35-yarder.

The Bears still need plenty of help to reach the post-season.

Chicago (8-6) is a half-game behind NFC North leader Minnesota, but the Vikings hold the tiebreaker. Chicago also is a half-game out of a wild-card spot.

It was another rough night in Chicago for New Orleans (7-7), which lost the NFC championship game here two years ago and saw its slim post-season hopes vanish with a loss on the final day last season at Soldier Field. The last-place Saints still have a shot at the wild card but can forget about catching NFC South leader Carolina.

Judge extends injunction against NFL suspensions

A federal judge extended his preliminary injunction against the NFL's suspension of five players for violating the league's anti-doping policy, a move their lawyer said will let them play the rest of the season.

In his ruling Thursday, U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson asked both parties to propose a schedule by Dec. 22 for further proceedings that would lead to an eventual hearing on the merits of the case, a process that could take months. The regular season ends Dec. 28.

Kevin Williams and Pat Williams of the Minnesota Vikings and Charles Grant, Deuce McAllister and Will Smith of the New Orleans Saints were suspended last week for four games each. They tested positive during training camp for a banned diuretic, bumetanide, in the dietary supplement StarCaps.

Bumetanide can be used as a masking agent for steroids. Diuretics are also used to quickly shed weight. The StarCaps label didn't list the diuretic as an ingredient.

"The players and the union are thrilled," Jeffrey Kessler, an attorney for the NFL Players Association, told The Associated Press. Kessler said the judge's timeframe is long enough that the players can finish the season and go to the playoffs if their teams make it that far.

The union argued the NFL didn't properly inform players about what it knew about StarCaps. The NFL's attorneys argued that claim, and others, had been considered and rejected in a process set out by the league's collective bargaining agreement.

Magnuson urged both sides to negotiate a solution. If they can't, he will preserve the status quo until there is a full evidentiary hearing on the case. The two sides have until Dec. 22 to negotiate a proposed schedule for filing papers ahead of that hearing, otherwise the judge will schedule it himself. Magnuson did not set a hearing date.

NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said in a statement the league accepted the decision.

Jags' Taylor out for year

Jaguars running back Fred Taylor was placed on injured reserve Thursday because of a thumb injury, ending his season with three games left and prompting questions about his future with the franchise.

"All of that still has to handle itself," said Taylor, a first-round pick in 1998 who has played his entire career in Jacksonville. "I don't know how it's going to play out."

Two weeks ago, Taylor said it was clear the organization was headed in another direction because of his reduced role and increased salary. The 32-year-old back is scheduled to make $6 million next season, which seems too high for a small-market team to pay a part-time player.

Taylor suggested this week he would be open to returning to Jacksonville at a reduced rate.

Cassel back at practice

Matt Cassel returned to practice with the Patriots on Thursday morning after missing Wednesday's workouts following his father's death.

Cassel took part in stretching and throwing drills during the portion of practice open to reporters at San Jose State, where the Patriots are training between road games in Seattle and Oakland.

Although the Patriots made no announcement, Cassel seems likely to start on Sunday against the Raiders.

Gore hopes to play

Running back Frank Gore hasn't ruled himself out of the 49ers' upcoming game in Miami even after missing his second straight practice Thursday with a sprained ankle.

Gore, who's fifth in the NFL with 1,345 total yards from scrimmage, still hopes to be in the lineup when the 49ers go for their fourth win in five games against the Dolphins.

He was injured in last week's win over the Jets when a pile of players fell on his leg while he strained for a first down. He was on crutches until Tuesday.

Blackout in St. Louis

The Rams' home game against the Seahawks on Sunday will not be televised locally after failing to sell out 72 hours before kickoff. It's the fifth time in the last three seasons the franchise failed to sell out. A team spokesman said Thursday a few thousand tickets remained unsold.

Around the league

Vikings: Defensive end Jared Allen missed his second straight practice with a knee injury Thursday, and quarterback Gus Frerotte was held out with a bad back. Allen is tied for fourth in the league with 12½ sacks. He said his knee is still sore from a low block he took from Lions offensive lineman Gosder Cherilus, but is hoping to play Sunday against Arizona.

Seahawks: Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck and tackle Walter Jones are unlikely to play for on Sunday after both stars missed practice again on Thursday.

Bills: Defensive end Aaron Schobel was placed on injured reserve on Thursday because of a nagging left foot injury that has forced the team's top pass-rusher to miss most of the season.