CLEVELAND – A couple of reports circulated before Sunday’s Bears-Cleveland Browns game that not everyone within the Bears’ organization was completely on board with the switch from Josh McCown back to Jay Cutler. That sentiment was nowhere to be found in the locker room after the Bears’ 38-31 comeback win over the Browns.
“Jay is our quarterback,” rookie guard Kyle Long said flatly. “Josh got us here. Jay’ll get us ‘there.’”
The “there” on the Bears’ mind lies beyond the regular season, which appeared to be nothing more than whimsy as late as three quarters into the Cleveland game. Now the Bears are 8-6 and sit atop the NFC North, the Detroit Lions (7-6) have to get past the Baltimore Ravens Monday night at home, and the Green Bay Packers (7-6-1) were able to overcome a 23-point halftime deficit to defeat the reeling Dallas Cowboys and stay in the race.
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For their part, the Bears trailed 24-17 after Browns (4-10) scored defensive touchdowns off a Cutler interception and Martellus Bennett fumble.
At that point, Cutler took the Bears “there.”
He completed five of seven passes for 71 yards and touchdowns to Alshon Jeffery for 45 yards and Earl Bennett for four, for a nearing-perfect 143.4 passer rating for the quarter, finishing at a 102.2 level for the game. With a 40-yard touchdown run by Michael Bush the Bears piled up 21 unanswered points in the span of eight minutes, their biggest single-quarter output this season.
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In the process, Cutler impressed even those who have known him at the NFL the longest.
“You have a guy like McCown playing lights out,’ Marshall said. “I would be crapping my pants if I was him. Fans, the commentators, sure they were ready to hang him. [Cutler] faced adversity, nothing short of that today.”
It wasn’t always an artistic success. Cutler threw two interceptions, one returned for a second-quarter touchdown and the other costing the Bears at least a field goal.
"I started off rusty," Cutler said. "Had some throws that were high. The guys rallied around me, they played really well, made some big-time catches, the offensive line played great. So it was good to get back out there, a really good team win.”
Cutler last week downplayed any thoughts about how well McCown had played in his stead. But "I'd be lying if I didn't say there was [some nervousness], with everything on the outside and as well as Josh has played,” Cutler conceded. "But this was the plan all along. No one really flinched in our building, everyone kind of stuck to it. Josh was super-supportive."
But while the story of the day and week was Cutler, the story Sunday included Matt Forte rushing for 127 yards and no opposing running back running for 100, something that hasn’t happened in any of the last six games.
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“It was something we talked about all week,” said defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff, making his second straight Bears start. “It’s something we have to do as a defense and it was an important goal for each one of us.”
In the end, helped by Zack Bowman’s two interceptions, one returned 43 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter, Cutler’s return as the Bears’ starting quarterback was a success, period.
The Bears are now 5-0 in games when their defense scores.
The result was the Bears stepping to the top of the NFC North. Your move, Detroit.
The Lions host the Ravens on Monday Night Football.