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Bears Beat Browns 38-31 in Cutler's Return

By Benjy Lipsman in News on Dec 16, 2013 5:30PM

Bears quarterback Jay Cutler looked a little rusty in the early going, which had many fans clamoring for the return of Josh McCown. But Cutler rebounded, the Bears rallied in the second half, and beat the Cleveland Browns 38-31.

Cutler's had an inauspicious start to the afternoon when he drove the Bears into the red zone before throwing an interception in the end zone to kill an early scoring opportunity and ignited a firestorm of fans demanding coach Marc Trestman put in McCown in the early going. Cleveland made the turnover pay by driving down field to take an early 3-0 lead on a Billy Cundiff 35-yard field goal set up primarily by Greg Little's 44-yard catch and run.

A Robbie Gould kick tied the game early in the second quarter, capping a 9-1/2 minute drive. The momentum appeared to shift momentarily toward the Bears when Zack Bowman grabbed the first of his two interceptions but the Bears were unable to capitalize on the turnover. Any momentum the Bears had vanished a few minutes later, when Cleveland's Tashaun Gipson picked off Cutler for the second time, returning the INT 44 yards for a pick-six. With the extra point, the Browns jumped out to a 10-3 lead.

But Cutler began to settle in and looked more comfortable as he moved the Bears down the field for their first TD after getting the ball back with less than 90 seconds on the clock. He connected with Brandon Marshall on a 41-yard pass and then hit his favorite target again in the end zone from five yards out to tie the game just before halftime.

Chicago grabbed their first lead of the afternoon a minute into the second half when Bowman snatched a Jason Campbell pass intended for Greg Little and returned it 43 yards for the score. Cleveland tied the game on their ensuing possession, then regained the lead when Martellus Bennett fumbled, T.J. Ward recovered the ball, and ran 51 yards for a touchdown to give the Browns a 24-17 lead.

Entering the fourth quarter down by a touchdown, The Bears retook the lead for good by scoring 21 unanswered points. The Bears drove 95 yards to score the tying TD when Alshon Jeffery made yet another highlight reel catch over two defenders before diving into the end zone for the score. The 45-yard score was Jeffery's third insane touchdown catch in as many weeks. The Bears then capitalized on excellent field position from a Devin Hester punt return to score again on a 4-yard touchdown pass to Earl Bennett, capping a 36-yard drive and giving the Bears a 31-24 advantage. Michael Bush made it 38-24 when he broke off a 40-yard run, his longest of the season. Bush's score came with just over two minutes left in the game. Cleveland cut the Bears lead to one possession when Campbell hit the up-to-then quiet Josh Gordon on a 43-yard touchdown. After an unsuccessful on-sides kick attempt, the Bears were able to run out the clock on their victory.

Despite his rocky start, Cutler finished 22 of 31 for 265 yards, three touchdown and those two first half picks for a 102.2 quarterback rating. As was the case before his injuries, Cutler's favorite target was Brandon Marshall, who was targeted 13 times and caught six passes for 95 yards and a touchdown. Alshon Jeffery caught five passes for 72 yards and a tourchdown. Martellus Bennett caught six passes for 71 yards, while Earl Bennett caught 4 passes for 23 yards and a score. The Bears moved the ball well on the ground, too, with Matt Forte gaining 127 yards on 24 carries, and Michael Bush gained 44 yards—most on his late touchdown.

The defense bounced back from some weak performances, with Tim Jennings shutting down Josh Gordon. The Browns wideout had racked up 774 receiving yards in his previous four games, but managed just 67 against the Bears—43 on his late TD catch. Edwin Baker lead the Browns running attack with 38 yards, meaning the Bears ended their streak of allowing a 100 yard rusher for six weeks straight. While the Browns scored 31 points, 14 were scored by the defense on turnovers.

Sunday's victory gives the Bears first place in the NFC North... for now. Detroit plays on Monday Night Football tonight and a Lions win would keep them in front of the Bears. However, a Ravens victory would give the Bears sole possession of first place with just two games remaining. The Bears finish their schedule with games against the Philadelphia Eagles and Green Bay Packers, while the Lions face the New York Giants and Minnesota Vikings.