Cutler returns, leads Bears past Browns
Cleveland, OH (SportsNetwork.com) - Jay Cutler had three touchdown passes, including two in the fourth quarter, to lead the Chicago Bears to a crucial 38-31 victory over the Cleveland Browns.
Cutler returned under center after missing the previous four games with a high left ankle sprain, with Josh McCown filling in admirably during his absence.
Chicago (8-6) went 2-2 without Cutler to stay in the thick of the NFC North race, with Sunday's win giving the team a half-game lead over Detroit, which hosts Baltimore on Monday night.
Should Detroit win, though, the Bears will find themselves in second place in the division due to a pair of losses to the Lions this season.
Cutler finished the game 22-for-31 for 265 yards with a pair of interceptions, while Matt Forte had 24 carries for 127 yards for Chicago, which has won three of the last four meetings with Cleveland.
Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery and Earl Bennett each caught a Cutler touchdown pass, with Michael Bush adding a score on the ground and Zack Bowman taking an interception into the end zone.
"I thought our team showed tremendous resiliency today," said Chicago head coach Marc Trestman. "There was a lot of adversity today and they fought through it without losing their poise or their energy."
Cleveland (4-10) continued its free-fall, as the team has dropped five straight and eight of nine to sit dead last in the AFC North.
Jason Campbell had a tough day under center, getting picked off twice and going just 23-for-39 for 273 yards with a late touchdown pass. Tashaun Gipson had two interceptions and returned one for a touchdown for the Browns, while T.J. Ward returned a fumble for a touchdown in the loss.
"This was a disappointing and frustrating loss here today," said Cleveland head coach Rob Chudzinski. "Disappointed we weren't able to win the last game at home here for the fans who have been loyal to us throughout this season. We turned the ball over too much, despite getting two turnovers for scores. The guys fought all game, but we weren't able to make the plays we needed to down the stretch."
Chicago entered the fourth quarter down 24-21 and got the ball back at its own 5 with 13 1/2 minutes left. The first snap saw a pass interference call on Cleveland move the ball 30 yards, and that was followed with an illegal contact penalty for another five yards and a first down.
Facing a 3rd-and-11 at the Cleveland 45 later in the drive, Cutler lofted a bomb down the right sideline into double coverage, but Gipson mistimed his leap and the ball went into the hands of Jeffery to tie the game with 10:59 to play.
"I thought it was just going to be floating 20 yards down the field," said Cutler. "That was Alshon doing what Alshon does best."
After a three-and-out from the Browns, the Bears got the ball back at the Cleveland 36 after a 21-yard return from Devin Hester. The team took advantage of the short field to take the lead, as Cutler hit Bennett in the end zone from four yards out to cap the six-play drive and give Chicago a 31-24 edge with 5:41 to play.
The Cleveland offense continued to struggle and Chicago got the ball back at its own 22. After a 24-yard run by Forte on 3rd-and-9, Bush took a handoff around the right guard and ran into the end zone on a 40-yard score for a 38-24 lead with 2:17 left.
Campbell and Josh Gordon got together on a 43-yard score to make it a seven- point game with 59 seconds left, but the Bears recovered the onsides kick and Cutler took a pair of knees to seal the win.
Chicago started the game with the ball and went on an impressive drive, highlighted by a 23-yard catch from Martellus Bennett that was followed by a 16-yard grab from Marshall to the Cleveland 14. The next play, though, saw a Cutler pass into the end zone tipped by Ward into the hands of teammate Gipson, who took the ball back to the Cleveland 27.
A 44-yard screen catch by Greg Little got the Browns into the red zone, but the drive stalled and the team settled for a 35-yard field goal by Billy Cundiff for a 3-0 lead with 7:26 left in the first quarter.
The Bears answered with a very long drive of their own, running 15 plays and getting down to the Cleveland five. The possession lasted 9 1/2 minutes and resulted in a a 23-yard field goal from Robbie Gould that tied the game just over two minutes into the second quarter.
Campbell then floated a pass down the left sideline that was easily picked off by Bowman, but the Bears were held to a three-and-out before getting the ball back at their own 19 after an equally short trek from the Browns.
However, Cutler snapped a high pass to his left that Marshall tried to make a leaping grab on but tipped the ball right into the hands of Gipson, who took the ball 44 yards into the end zone to give the Browns a 10-3 lead.
Chicago got a 40-yard return from Hester on the kickoff, and a 15-yard run from Forte got the ball to the Cleveland 33. Facing a 4th-and-1 at the 24, Chicago lined up to go for it, but a false start penalty on Jeffery pushed the ball back five yards.
The Bears then went to Gould for a 46-yard field goal attempt, which he booted true through the uprights, but a holding call on Corey Wootton moved the ball back another 10 yards and the team had to punt.
Chicago, though, got the ball back at its own 34 with 1:29 to play in the half, and a 41-yard catch by Marshall got the ball to the Cleveland 13. Two plays later, Cutler found Marshall in the right side of the end zone for a 5- yard score that tied the game at 10-10 with 24 seconds left in the half.
Cleveland started the second half with the ball, but Bowman stepped up on a Campbell pass for a clean pick, then took it 43 yards the other way to give the Bears a 17-10 lead.
The Browns came back with an impressive drive, with Campbell converting a 3rd- and-8 with a 17-yard run. Running out of the Wildcat formation, MarQueis Gray took a pair of direct snaps for 18 and 12 yards, respectively, to the Chicago 2. The next snap saw Edwin Baker, playing his first NFL game, take a handoff to the left and bull his way in to tie the game with 8:20 to play in the third.
Cleveland then regained the lead on another Chicago miscue, as Bennett had the ball punched out of his hands by Billy Winn, with Ward scooping up the ball and taking it in from 51 yards out for a 24-17 advantage with 3:40 left in the quarter.
It was the first time that players from separate teams had two interceptions with one returned for a touchdown in the same game since Pittsburgh and Philadelphia accomplished the feat on Dec. 12, 1965 ... Gordon has a touchdown in five straight games, tying the team record held by Paul Warfield. He finished the game with three catches for 67 yards ... Chicago totaled 179 rushing yards on 31 carries, with Cleveland gaining 93 on 17 carries ... Chicago controlled the ball for nearly 35 minutes ... Chicago plays in Philadelphia next Sunday night ... Cleveland, which went 3-5 at home this season, hits the road for its final two games against the Jets next Sunday and closing the season in Pittsburgh the following Sunday.
12/15 20:04:23 ET