All the Bears needed in Cleveland was a win, and that’s pretty much all they got. Their 38-31 victory over the Browns on Sunday kept the Bears’ playoff hopes very much alive.
In his first action since Nov. 10 against the Detroit Lions, Jay Cutler did more to feed the controversy over his return to the starting lineup ahead of Josh McCown than he did to silence it, but he also did enough to win.
Seventeen of the Browns’ 31 points came courtesy of two Cutler interceptions by Tashaun Gipson, the second returned 44 yards for a touchdown, and a 51-yard fumble return by T.J. Ward after Martellus Bennett put the ball on the ground.
Cutler clearly was rusty and his passes were wild Sunday, but other than those three plays, the Bears offense did do some nice things.
Cutler finished 22 of 31 for 265 yards and three touchdowns with two interceptions and a 102.2 passer rating. That made for his second best passing day of the season, efficiency-wise.
Alshon Jeffery once again provided the turning point of the game, this time with a 45-yard touchdown reception on a jump ball at the goal line with just more than 11 minutes left to tie the score at 24.
The Bears’ defense responded, stopping the Browns for a three-and-out. After Spencer Lanning punted 47 yards to the Bears’ 43, Devin Hester returned it 21 yards to put the Bears in business at the Browns’ 36.
Cutler needed only five plays – including four Matt Forte runs that totaled 22 yards – to set up third-and-goal at the Browns’ 4. That’s when Cutler found Earl Bennett for a 31-24 lead.
After another stand by the Bears’ defense, they rolled 78 yards on only five plays, the last two a 24-yard Forte run and a 40-yard Michael Bush touchdown run, to put the game away.
It was a sloppy win over a bad football team. Cutler’s dismal first half is certain to keep talk radio, the internet and Twitter hopping all week long. But there also was much to build on.
It was the Bears who dominated on the ground, rushing for 179 yards to only 93 for Cleveland.
Cutler stared down Brandon Marshall for the better part of the first half, but he finished the game with nice balance, finding Marshall with six completions, Martellus Bennett had six catches, Jeffery finished with five and Earl Bennett caught four passes.
On defense, Zack Bowman and Jeremiah Ratliff both took turns being the star against the Browns.
Ratliff was only credited with two tackles, but he was disruptive on the line of scrimmage. He had one tackle for loss and three quarterback pressures.
Bowman had two interceptions and returned one for 43 yards and a touchdown to give the Bears a short-lived 17-10 lead 2:12 into the second half.
James Anderson also had a nice bounce-back performance after two less-than-stellar performances against the Vikings and Cowboys. He keyed the defense with 11 tackles and seemed to help Jon Bostic into better run fits, as well, although Khaseem Greene was again, for the most part, missing in action.
It was a good day for coach Marc Trestman, as well. Although the great quarterback debate will rage on, the Bears followed their 490-yard, 45-point outburst against the Cowboys with 440 yards of offense, 38 points and a 9:36 advantage in time of possession.
Trestman also knows his club now can move on from the quarterback drama, even if the fans don’t, and focus on what will be a very angry Philadelphia team that figures to pose a much tougher test for the Bears in prime time Sunday.
• Hub Arkush covers the Bears for Shaw Media and HubArkush.com. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.