TORONTO -- The Bears won a game they were supposed to, and they found solutions to some of the problems that had plagued them while losing three of their four previous games.
But the 22-19 victory over the Bills (0-8) can't be considered a complete success for the Bears (5-3).
Contact information ( * required )
Not when the running game, minus quarterback Jay Cutler's contributions, produced just 66 yards on 26 carries (a 2.5-yard average) against the worst run defense in the NFL.
Counting Cutler's 39 yards, the Bears had 105 yards on the ground, 84 less than the Bills had been allowing this year, on average.
And not when the defense gets just 1 sack on 52 pass plays and allows 294 passing yards.
"We weren't able to get as much pressure as we would like with the four-man rush," Bears coach Lovie Smith said.
"When you have momentum, you're able to really get a team on their heels. We weren't able to do that. But I like the way our team was able to finish."
The important thing is, the Bears at least tried to run the football enough (31 times) to keep the opposing defense honest, a concept they had abandoned in their 3 losses, in which they averaged just 15 runs.
"The Bills struggled against the run, so that was going to be part of the game plan," Cutler said. "We got some big chunks passing the ball, as we usually do. Matt (Forte) had a big run there (22 yards), so we're going to do whatever it takes.
"I think (offensive coordinator) Mike Martz is definitely conscious of getting the run going some how, some way. Even if we have to just stick it in there and get 2- and 3-yard gains."
That commitment to a balanced attack and a reshuffled (again) offensive line provided better protection than Cutler has enjoyed in any game this season.
The Bears entered Rogers Centre having allowed 31 sacks, 8 more than the next-worst team in the league. And Cutler had been sacked 19 times in his previous 2½ games.
But the Bills got to him just once, as he completed 17 of 30 passes for 188 yards, 2 touchdowns and no interceptions for a 97.6 passer rating, his best in seven weeks.
"It was really good all day long," Cutler said of his protection. "There were only a few things off the edge we have to worry about, but we shored up the A and B (inside) gaps, which is what we wanted to do."
It appeared for a brief time that the only time Cutler did get sacked would be the key play in a potential Bills victory.
With the Bears leading 14-13 and the ball at the Buffalo 39, the visitors were poised to put some distance between themselves and the feisty underdogs.
But then Cutler was sacked and stripped by Spencer Johnson, who recovered at the Bills' 49 on the third play of the fourth quarter.
That set up a Bills touchdown that gave them their only lead of the day at 19-14.
The Bears' offense, which generated just 283 total yards, went three-and-out, giving the Bills a chance to pad their advantage.
That's when Bears cornerback Tim Jennings changed the momentum of the game, tipping a Ryan Fitzpatrick pass, bobbling it for a seeming eternity and then corralling it at the Chicago 38 and taking it back 39 yards to the Bills' 23.
"I think I touched it 10 or 15 times before I got it," Jennings said, exaggerating a bit. "It felt like slow motion because I couldn't let it hit the ground. I was able to regain it.
"It was huge. We felt like we had to make a stop, get a turnover and have a chance to put points on the board."
On third-and-10 Cutler stood patiently in a clean pocket until he detected tight end Greg Olsen in the middle of the field and hit him for an 18-yard gain.
Three plays later Cutler tossed a 2-yard TD toss to Earl Bennett and then flipped an inside shovel pass to Matt Forte for the 2-point conversion and the final points.
Cutler's hookup with Olsen was indicative of the offense's improvement on third-down conversions, which provided another cause for optimism.
Through eight weeks, the Bears were far and away the NFL's worst third-down offense, converting just 17.9 percent of their attempts, including a ludicrous five of their last 53. Against the Bills they had a season-best 58 percent success rate.
Even bigger was the red zone success, as the Bears came away with 3 touchdowns on four trips inside the Bills' 20-yard line.
And for the first time this season, after botching 10 straight plays from 1 yard out, the Bears found pay dirt when Chester Taylor's 1-yard TD run gave them a 14-13 lead midway through the third quarter.
Cornerback Charles Tillman forced and recovered a fumble to set up that score.
The Bears allowed 340 total yards, but they also produced 3 takeaways.
"Defensively, we didn't play as well as we have," Smith said. "They made some plays after a slow start. We talked a lot about taking the ball away. Takeaways really kept us in it and kind of sealed it at the end."
Chris Harris' interception at the Bills' 45 with 27 seconds left clinched the victory.
• Follow Bob LeGere's Bears reports via Twitter@BobLeGere. Check out his blog, Bear Essentials, at DailyHerald.com.