(Edit: Title originally said the Bears overcame a 14-point deficit; that was never the case. I think I mixed up my simultaneous desire to say they overcame the 14 points Cleveland’s defense scored with my desire to note the unanswered scoring run the Bears went on. I hope you’ll find it in your hearts to forgive me.)
So, that was your prototypical 2013 Bears game, wasn’t it? Twists, turns, highs, lows, a ridiculous touchdown from Alshon Jeffery…this game had it all. But in the end, the Bears escape Cleveland with a hard-earned 38-31 victory. After weeks of speculation, Jay Cutler made his return to the Bears lineup, and he came out 7-8 on the opening drive of the game. But a pass to the end zone bounced off Brandon Marshall’s hands and Cleveland’s Tashaun Gipson came up with the interception. Gipson later intercepted a Cutler overthrow and returned it for six; that extended Cleveland’s lead to 10-3.
Cutler rebounded with an excellent scoring drive at the end of the first half, and on the opening drive after the break Jason Campbell threw a pass straight to Zach Bowman, who returned it for a Bears defensive touchdown. (Man I love those.) The Browns responded with a lengthy touchdown drive, and on the Bears next possession, Martellus Bennett fumbled for only the second time in his career; it proved costly, as T.J. Ward recovered and returned it for Cleveland’s second defensive score of the game.
The Bears trailed 24-17 entering the fourth quarter, and after starting a drive at their own five, they faced a 3rd and 11 from midfield. Cutler unleashed a deep pass to which Alshon Jeffery adjusted and made yet another spectacular play, scrambling to the end zone (as depicted in the GIF above.) That ball traveled 52 yards in the air, into the wind. Jay certainly has an arm. It also wasn’t the greatest decision, but the Browns were flagged for roughing on the play, and the Bears were getting a first down no matter what.
The roughing penalty proved costly for Cleveland, as the yardage was enforced on the kickoff; the Bears took advantage by popping up a kickoff, pinning the Browns to the 14-yard line. After the defense forced a three-and-out, Devin Hester returned the short-field punt to the Cleveland 36; once again, had someone blocked the punter he may have taken it all the way. Instead, the Bears offense took over, and six plays later Cutler found Earl Bennett for the go-ahead touchdown; his third touchdown pass of the day. The defense forced another stop, and Michael Bush then broke a 40-yard run for the insurance touchdown. Cleveland would score with :59 seconds remaining, as Josh Gordon finally made a big play against the Chicago secondary, but it was too little, too late; the Browns failed to recover an onside kick, and two kneel-downs later, the Bears took sole possession of first in the NFC North.
I’ll obviously have more to go over from today’s game, but here are a few quick thoughts:
- The offense struggled a bit early, but that cannot entirely be attributed to the return of Cutler; he sailed a few throws, for sure, but the Browns defense is one of the best the Bears have faced all season, and the Bears offense still managed 31 points. A big part of that offensive success came on third down; as ESPN Stats & Info noted, Cutler was 11-12 for 151 yards and two touchdowns when facing third down situations. That’s hyper-efficient against a good defense.
- The defense played decently for the second week in a row. They failed to sack Campbell, but they held Cleveland to 93 rushing yards, which was very encouraging. They were on the hook for just 17 of the Browns 31 points; the other two touchdowns were scored against the Chicago offense. And until a late, near-garbage time 43-yard touchdown catch, the Bears had held NFL-leading receiver Josh Gordon to 2 catches for 24 yards.
- Had the Bears not recovered, sloppy play may have been blamed; beyond the turnovers, they were whistled for 7 penalties, worth 40 yards total. That was fortunately dwarfed by the 9 flags for 90 yards racked up by the Browns. Those included two big and obvious calls (pass interference and holding) on the Bears 95-yard touchdown drive that accounted for thirty-five yards and two automatic first downs.
- I didn’t hear anyone say “Alshon Jeffries” today, so that’s a win. There was plenty of McCown talk, though, which is to be expected.
- Though he was neutralized in the receiving game, Matt Forte ran for 127 yards on 14 carries, including big gains on toss plays on both of the Bears final two touchdown drives; the second one came on a 3rd and 9 play from the Bears 40. If the Browns make a stop there, they would have had time to drive for the tying score; instead Forte converted, and then Michael Bush broke off his decisive touchdown on the very next play.
The Bears now sit at 8-6, and they await the results from both the Green Bay-Dallas game this afternoon and the Detroit-Baltimore game tomorrow night. (I erroneously said on Twitter that a Green Bay loss would eliminate them. That’s not true, but it would reduce their chances drastically. Sorry for the mistake, though; math is hard, and that tie on their record has been messing me up.) The Bears travel to Philadelphia next Sunday night to face an Eagles team that will be coming off of a loss to the Adrian Peterson-less Minnesota Vikings; both teams will certainly be playing for their playoff hopes.
Whew. The Bears just don’t make it easy, do they? I’m exhausted, but excited; the Bears are very much alive, and they’ve turned in two strong team efforts in a row. Meaningful December football is fun.