Sunday, Dec. 26, 2010
Posted 3:09 PM Updated 6:40 PM
By John Mullin
The New York Jets may have backed into the AFC Playoffs Sunday, qualifying by virtue of the Jacksonville Jaguars losing. The Bears needed no such help and showed why they are already the champions of the NFC North.
Shaking off a succession of first-half jolts that saw the Jets pile up 24 points in the first 30 minutes, the Bears turned loose their offense in the second half to down the Jets 38-34 for their seventh win in their last eight games.
We talk a lot about finishing, said coach Lovie Smith. And thats exactly what we did.
The victory kept the Bears (11-4) very much in the competition for the No. 2 seed and a first-round bye in the NFC playoffs.
The win was the Bears third of 2010 against a team with a winning record, having taken down the Green Bay Packers and Philadelphia Eagles in Soldier Field. It also gave the Bears a 5-3 home record. Not since Lovie Smiths first year (2004) have the Bears failed to reach .500 in Soldier Field.
This was the kind of offensive explosion that the Bears envisioned when they brought in Mike Martz as offensive coordinator. Including a Devin Hester return touchdown last Monday against Minnesota, the Bears scored 40 and 38 points in the span of six days, their biggest two-game onslaught of the Lovie Smith era.
Jay Cutler threw three touchdown passes in the first nine minutes of the third quarter and ran two yards for a score in the second quarter, his first rushing TD in 26 games. The Bears were outgained but were efficient both running and passing, the hallmark of the play that has carried them to seven wins in their eight games since their Sunday off back on Halloween.
Matt Forte rushed for 113 yards on 19 carries, one for a touchdown, and added 56 yards on four pass receptions.
The defense, rocked in the second quarter that included a touchdown return of a Cutler interception, turned back the Jets on a Chris Harris interception with 58 seconds remaining to preserve the win.
The guys are extremely excited, Harris said. It was one of those games where you dont care how you get it done; you just have to get it done.
It was a game of dramatic swings. The Bears dashed to a 10-0 edge, then stumbled around while the Jets scored 21 straight points and led 24-17 at halftime.
The Bears scored 14 points in less than five minutes at the outset of the third quarter to lead 31-24 and got on top of the Jets 38-31 with a 21-point quarter of their own.
From the second quarter on we lost some momentum, said center Olin Kreutz. People think its all the quarterback but its not; its all of us. We came in at halftime and just said we need to get back to executing our assignments.
Weve said all year if we could improve little by little and be playing our best ball now, thats what we wanted to do. Hopefully we keep doing that.
Cutler threw touchdown passes of 40 yards to Johnny Knox and 25 yards to Hester. The first followed a head-shaking fake punt by the Jets that failed miserably and gave the Bears the ball in Jets territory and the offense was able to turn that into points.
Cutler struck again to Knox for 26 yards and a score against cornerback Antonio Cromartie to become the first Bears quarterback since Erik Kramer in 1995 to pass for three touchdowns in one quarter.
Going into the game I dont think anyone would have predicted a game like that, with two outstanding defenses, Smith said. You never know; each game takes on its own personality.
The Bears failed to score in the fourth quarter as New York scored on a Nick Folk field goal just as the quarter began. The Jets reached the Chicago 35 midway through the quarter but were driving north into a wind, could not attempt a field goal, and never seriously threatened again.
John "Moon" Mullin is CSNChicago.com's Bears Insider, and appears regularly on Bears Postgame Live and Chicago Tribune Live. Follow Moon on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bears information.