Reunited and it feels so… good?
The Chicago Bears (8-6) kept their playoff hopes alive with an up-and-down 38-31 victory over the Cleveland Browns (4-10) Sunday afternoon. Jay Cutler was the focus of a lot of media attention this week, with the stellar performance of backup Josh McCown in his absence. It seemed the debate over who would start would never end, until Marc Trestman put that to bed Thursday when he officially named Cutler the starter. He had initially made that decision as soon as Number Six went down, so the never-ending discussion and narrative-weaving seems like overkill at this point.
Cutler overcomes adversity to lead Chicago Bears to victory
Cutler is the Bears’ guy, and his return Sunday came with mixed results. The quarterback was rusty early on, throwing two early interceptions, but settled into things and finished with 265 yards on 22-of-31 passing. Every time the Browns scored, the Bears had an answer. Down 10-3 just before the half, Cutler led the team down the field with enough time to find Brandon Marshall for a 5-yard TD pass.
This provided the Bears and Cutler the confidence they needed to flip the switch on the offense and get going, as much-maligned cornerback Zack Bowman picked off a Jason Campbell pass early in the second half and returned it 43 yards to give the Bears a 17-10 lead. Bowman had two picks on the day, an encouraging day for the struggling corner. Campbell threw for 273 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions on 23-of-39 passing.
It was expected Cutler would look shaky at the outset, since he had missed the last four games. This performance was definitely a confidence-booster for not only Cutler, but the guys who have been rallying around him in the Chicago locker room amidst all of the criticism and debate. Believe it or not, the franchise quarterback of your team needs to have a game like Cutler had to show he can come through in pressure-filled situations.
A big moment that tipped the scales in the Bears’ favor came in the fourth quarter, when Cutler threw a 45-yard rainbow in double coverage to Alshon Jeffery, who had previously been kept in check the whole game, who came down with it in phenomenal fashion and had the presence of mind to turn and extend over the goal line for the score. This tied the game at 24 after Browns’ safety T.J. Ward recovered a fumble in the third quarter and returned it for a touchdown to give them a 24-17 lead.
Fellow missing wideout Earl Bennett was found by Cutler for a 4-yard TD to give the Bears a touchdown lead late in the fourth. Running back Michael Bush seemed to saunter 40 yards to give the Bears a two touchdown lead, and it looked like the Bears would win by that score. Speaking of missing wideouts, Browns’ wideout Josh Gordon was held in check for 67 yards on three targets, but added a touchdown with 57 seconds remaining to put the score at 38-31. The Bears would recover the ensuing onside kick, and they would escape with the much-needed victory.
I said in the preview story a big key to a Bears’ victory would be to stop the duo of Gordon and tight end Jordan Cameron. Gordon was held in check by Jennings for the duration of the game, save the late touchdown. Cameron was as well, as he was targeted three times for only 23 yards. Although the run defense still needs work, they were effective in that area as well, allowing just 93 yards.
Campbell was not sacked Sunday, but the defensive front of the Bears disrupted him enough to where he was not able to get the ball to his favorite targets, rendering them useless. Next week’s game in Philadelphia under the spotlight of Sunday Night Football will be a huge test for Cutler, as he now has a game under his belt and there should be no more shakiness from the QB.
As Trestman said in Sunday’s post-game press conference, they played well enough to stay alive and compete in the NFC North. Next Sunday and here on out, they need to play better to win it.