Trailing the Jets 21-10 in the second quarter and looking like anything but a playoff team, the Bears needed help.
It came from the unlikeliest of places -- their offense.
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That unit came in to Sunday's game ranked 30th in total yards, 31st in interceptions allowed, 32nd in sacks allowed, 26th in passing yards and 25th in rushing yards.
But it scored touchdowns on four straight possessions, not counting a one-play kneel-down at the end of the half. The explosion came against the NFL's No. 5 defense, and it was ignited by the Bears' special teams.
It all added up to 38-34 victory in an unexpected shootout that moved the 11-4 Bears a step closer to the No. 2 seed in the playoffs and a first-round bye. The Jets fell to 10-5 on a day that featured a little sun, some wind and off-and-on snow throughout. But New York still clinched a wild-card playoff berth when the Jaguars lost to the Redskins.
The Bears' offense hasn't gotten a lot of respect for most of the year, and for a while didn't deserve it.
"You could say that early on," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "I think we've been taking steps. During the course of the season, you're going to go through spells where the defense will dominate, and the offense, maybe not. Hopefully we'll keep this going."
The Bears have put up 78 points in the last two games and scored more than 30 points in three of their last five games. After a fitful start, the offense has been major contributor to the team's recent hot streak that includes 7 wins in eight games since the bye.
"The offenses just did a nice job going back and forth," tight end Greg Olsen said. "But we're not concerned with our defense. They've won a lot of games for us around here, so it was our turn finally to step up and continue to play well."
The 3 straight touchdowns the Bears scored in the second half all came on drives that started in Jets territory. The first -- and maybe the most important -- was set up by a questionable fake punt call that blew up in the Jets' faces.
Mark Sanchez's pass to Brad Smith was broken up by Rashied Davis, who came to the Bears as a cornerback from the Arena League, where he played wide receiver and defensive back.
On the Bears' next play, from the Jets' 40, Johnny Knox got behind Dwight Lowery and backpedaled into the end zone while awaiting Cutler's pass that tied it at 24-24.
"Going for the jugular after that (fake punt) was huge," Davis said. "You want to try to knock them out and say, 'You (screwed) up,' and we were able to do that."
The Bears made their own breaks after that, thanks to Devin Hester. His 38-yard punt return, the first one that Jets punter Steve Weatherford allowed him to field, set up his 25-yard TD reception from Jay Cutler. That put the Bears back on top 31-24.
The Jets quickly tied it, zipping through the Bears' defense for 66 yards on 4 plays, but Hester returned the ensuing kickoff 40 yards to the Jets' 49.
"I don't get that many opportunities, so when I do I want to make them miss," Hester said. "I wanted to get my hands on the ball again."
What proved to be the winning points came five plays later on Cutler's third TD pass, and his second to Knox. The 26-yard score made it 38-31 with 6:06 left in the third quarter.
Cutler threw just 25 passes and completed 13, but they produced 215 yards and a passer rating of 104.2, his fourth plus-100 rating in the last five games.
The Bears' defense, which allowed 393 yards, finally stiffened, allowing just a 34-yard Nick Folk field goal in the final 23:35. Safety Chris Harris secured the victory with his team-best fifth interception with 51 seconds remaining.
The Bears' only competition for the No. 2 seed now is the 10-4 Eagles, whose Sunday night game at home vs. the Vikings was postponed until Tuesday night because of a blizzard.
Smith said he won't lose any sleep worrying about what the Eagles do. If the Bears defeat the Packers in Green Bay on Sunday, they're in as the second seed.
"We control whether we get the bye or not," the Bears' coach said. "We have a lot of reasons to be pumped up for this game. It's our rival and we're playing for that first-round bye. So for us what happens with Philly really doesn't matter a lot. We want to be in this position right here."
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