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updated: 12/15/2013 6:49 PM

Cutler rewards Trestman, Bears with win

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  • Bears quarterback Jay Cutler celebrates a touchdown by Bears running back Michael Bush in the fourth quarter of an NFL football game against the Cleveland Browns on Sunday, Dec. 15, 2013, in Cleveland. Chicago won 38-31.

      Bears quarterback Jay Cutler celebrates a touchdown by Bears running back Michael Bush in the fourth quarter of an NFL football game against the Cleveland Browns on Sunday, Dec. 15, 2013, in Cleveland. Chicago won 38-31.
    Associated Press

 
 

Turns out Jay Cutler did learn something from watching Josh McCown.

After targeting Brandon Marshall all day in his first game back, Cutler finally threw one up for grabs between defenders and let Alshon Jeffery drag it down for a touchdown that saved the Bears' season.

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That play tied the game in the fourth quarter and the Bears later scored to take the lead and ultimately beat the Browns 38-31 in Cleveland on Sunday to improve to 8-6 and move back into the NFC North lead, pending a Lions (7-6) matchup with Baltimore in Detroit on Monday night.

With games remaining at Philadelphia, which played a dreadful game Sunday in Minnesota even with the Vikings missing their top two running backs, and home against Green Bay -- perhaps without Aaron Rodgers -- the Bears have at least kept themselves in the discussion for a playoff spot.

"As I told the team, we played well enough today -- because we won -- to put ourselves in a position to compete for the division in the last two games," said Bears head coach Marc Trestman. "But we have to play better to win it."

With Jason Campbell pitching for the Browns, the reality is it didn't much matter who started at quarterback for the visitors, but Cutler's awful first half certainly had Bears Nation questioning Trestman's decision to go back to his No. 1 QB.

And if had been a home game, with apologies to Brian Urlacher, the boo-birds would have been all over Cutler. But after sailing several passes in the first half and throwing 2 picks, one of which was returned for a TD, Cutler rebounded in the second half to go 9-for-12 with no interceptions and 2 touchdowns, and finished with a 102.2 QB rating.

"I told him we weren't going to change our game plan or play to protect him and the play-calling showed that throughout," Trestman said. "You really have to give a lot of credit to his teammates. They played hard for him today and they had his back.

"He's an elected captain of this football team, and I'm sure he would tell you that not just the offensive guys but throughout our football team they stuck together and won for each other today."

The heat was on both Cutler and Trestman to defeat a 4-9 Browns team, and the rough start did nothing to inspire confidence, but Trestman has never wavered in his belief of Cutler while all around Chicago were screaming for more McCown.

"Yeah, I'd be lying if I didn't say there was (pressure), with everything on the outside and as well as Josh has played, but this was the plan all along," Cutler admitted in a rare burst of honesty. "No one really flinched in our building. Josh was super supportive. (Trestman) did a great job, and so did the guys out on the field.

"It's a great group of guys. They rallied around me when we started slow. Looking forward to moving on from this week."

Many considered it a dangerous move, going back to Cutler after McCown had played so well, but perhaps Trestman knew enough to pocket his winnings and that the real risk was in trying to play one more hand with McCown.

In the end, it worked out for Trestman as he saw Cutler go 11-for-12 on third down for 152 yards, 2 TDs, no picks, 7 first downs and a 158.3 QB rating.

"He had to handle a lot this week, probably more than at any time in his career for a number of different reasons," Trestman said. "You have to be very mentally tough to do what he did today, not only to get through the week, but get through the game in harsh conditions and throwing 2 picks in the first half.

"It says a lot about the man."

It says something about the Bears as a whole that Matt Forte also ran for 127 yards, becoming the first opponent to rush for more than 88 against Cleveland's fourth-ranked run defense.

And on the other side, the Bears' defense gave up only 93 yards on the ground after entering the game last in the NFL at 157 yards per game.

Once Michael Bush put the game away with a 40-yard TD run inside of two minutes, Cutler walked back to the sideline where he was greeted by his head coach, who gave him a big Bear hug and a pat on the helmet.

"It was a very satisfying win for our team," Trestman said. "There was a lot of noise around our team this week. We addressed the team about it, but they hung together and stayed focused and through the adversity they embraced it.

"It's hard on a short week coming off an exceptional game on Monday Night Football. Now, we have a prime-time game coming up on Sunday night."

Better yet, now it matters.

brozner@dailyherald.com

•Hear Barry Rozner on WSCR 670-AM and follow him @BarryRozner on Twitter.

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