Jay Cutler, who reclaimed the starting quarterback job from Josh McCown, overcame two early interceptions and threw three touchdown passes Sunday to rally the Chicago Bears to a 38-31 victory over the Cleveland Browns.
Cutler was 22-for-31 for 265 yards, three TDs, two interceptions and a passer rating of 102.2.
The win boosted the Bears’ record to 8-6 and moved them temporarily ahead of the Detroit Lions (7-6), who host Baltimore on Monday night, in the NFC North.
Michael Bush put the icing on the cake with a 40-yard touchdown run that boosted the Bears’ lead to 38-24 with 2:17 left.
Cutler found Earl Bennett in the end zone for a four-yard touchdown pass that gave the Bears a 31-24 lead with 5:41 left in regulation. The drive covered 36 yards on six plays after a 21-yard punt return by Devin Hester gave them excellent field position.
Cutler, who cut in line in front of Josh McCown for the starting assignment, was having an up-and-down day through three quarters. But Alshon Jeffery’s acrobatic grab of an underthrown, 45-yard Culter pass gave the Bears a game-tying touchdown at the 10:59 mark of the fourth quarter, making the score 24-all.
The Browns’ defense scored its second touchdown of the day, with T.J. Ward returning a Martellus Bennett fumble 52 yards to give Cleveland a 24-17 lead with 3:40 left in the third quarter. Bennett had the ball punched from his grasp by the Browns’ Billy Winn.
The Browns tied the game at 17-17 on a 2-yard run by Edwin Baker with 8:20 left in the third quarter. It was Baker’s first NFL TD. The scoring drive covered 85 yards in 10 plays.
Defense had given the Bears their first lead early in the third quarter. Zack Bowman intercepted a Jason Campbell pass intened for Greg Little and returned it 43 yards for a touchdown and a 17-10 lead at the 13:48 mark of the third quarter.
Cutler received a rude welcome back from the Browns, but also had some highlights. The Bears tied the game at 10-10 on a 5-yard TD pass from Cutler to Brandon Marshall with 24 seconds left in the first half. The score was set up by a 41-yard pass from Cutler to Marshall during a four-play, 66-yard drive.
Cutler’s first-half numbers: 13-for-19, 168 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions for a passer rating of 73.9.
Cutler’s second interception of the day, both by Tashaun Gipson, was returned 44 yards for a touchdown and a 10-3 Browns lead with 8:01 left in the second quarter. Cutler overthrew a wide-open Marshall on the play.
Penalties cut short another Bears’ drive. The Bears were trying for a fourth-and-inches play at the Browns’ 24 when Alshon Jeffery was called for a false start. After the penalty, Robbie Gould made a 46-yard field goal, but the score was negated because of a holding penalty on Corey Wootton. The Bears then decided to punt.
Gould’s 23-yard field goal had pulled the Bears into a 3-3 tie with 12:58 to play in the first half after a 15-play, 75-yard drive fizzled. It was the second long drive directed by Cutler, who in the first quarter completed 7 of 8 passes for 100 yards, threw a costly interception and had a passer rating of 79.2.
The Browns struck first, taking a 3-0 lead on a 35-yard field goal by Billy Cundiff with 7:26 to play in the first quater. Cleveland took possession after intercepting Cutler in their own end zone.
Cutler had looked comfortable on the Bears’ first drive, completing passes to Martellus Bennett and Marshall after runs by Matt Forte. But Cutler’s pass in the end zone intended for Marshall was intercepted by Gipson and returned 35 yards to the Browns’ 27. T.J. Ward had tipped the ball in the air to Gipson.
The Bears are tied for the NFC North lead with the Lions at 7-6, but Detroit owns the tie-breaker and will host the Ravens on Monday night.
Bears coach Marc Trestman rolled the dice and showed complete faith in Cutler by starting him against the Browns (4-9).
McCown had been named NFC Offensive Player of the Week after completing 27 of 36 passes for 348 yards and four touchdowns with a career-high 141.9 passer rating against Dallas. He also ran for a score as the Bears rang up 490 total yards and stayed alive in the NFC North race.
The Bears scored on eight straight possessions against the Cowboys as Adam Podlesh was not needed to punt.
McCown has completed 147 of 220 passes (66.8 percent) for 1,809 yards. He has thrown for 13 touchdowns and has had just one interception for a passer rating of 109.8.
Cutler has completed 167 of 265 passes (63.0 percent) for 1,908 yards, 13 TDs and eight interceptions for an 88.4 passer rating.
The Bears travel to Philadelphia next Sunday night before winding up the regular season by hosting the Packers.