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Bears 'stick to plan' on way to win

Posted Dec 15, 2013

The Chicago Bears "stuck to the plan" in Sunday's 38-31 win over the Cleveland Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium.

Even when things looked bleak on Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium and “the noise around the team” no doubt got even noisier, Chicago Bears head coach Marc Trestman never wavered.

Neither did quarterback Jay Cutler.

And because of that, the Bears were able to stay patient and eventually vault their way past the Browns, 38-31, and into first place in the NFC North.

Cutler had missed the previous four games with a high ankle sprain. His replacement, Josh McCown, excelled, throwing 13 touchdown passes with just one interception.

As Cutler returned to health last week, Trestman was faced with a dilemma. Should he stick with the man who had the hot hand? Or should he go back to his original starter?  

“McCown was lights out,” Bears wide receiver Brandon Marshall said. “And then you’ve got your franchise quarterback (Cutler) on the side.”

Indeed, the question was the talk of the town, if not the entire NFL.

“There was a lot noise around our team during the week,” Trestman said.

But then he added, “We had a plan all along. We had a plan for this. We stuck to the plan.”

The plan was always to go back to Cutler when he was healthy, and now he was healthy. Case closed.

For a while, though, it looked like the plan might be backfiring. After McCown had been so careful with the ball over the past month, Cutler threw two interceptions in just the first half, one of which was returned 44 yards for a touchdown by free safety Tashaun Gipson midway through the second quarter to give the Browns a 10-3 lead.

“With the first pick and then the second pick, I’m sure the fans back home were ready to hang Jake,” Marshall said with a laugh.

And maybe also hang the man who made the decision to start him. Asked if he thought about benching Cutler in the first half, Trestman said, “I had a lot of thoughts running through my head when all that was going on, but benching Jay wasn’t one of them.”

Trestman has been around a lot of offenses since getting his pro start with the Bernie Kosar-led Browns of 25 years ago. As such, he knows that talent always wins out in the end. So he had confidence in Cutler. More importantly, Cutler had confidence in himself.  

“I started rusty,” Cutler said. “But I wasn’t worried, because I was seeing things well. After the two interceptions, I stayed positive and just let things come to me.”

Trestman’s patience paid off. Cutler bounced back to hit Marshall with a five-yard touchdown pass with just 24 seconds left in the first half to tie the score 10-10.

After the Bears found themselves trailing, 24-17, following strong safety T.J. Ward’s 51-yard fumble return for a touchdown with 3:40 left in the third quarter, Cutler went back to work.

First, he threw a 45-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Alshon Jeffrey with 10:59 remaining in the game to tie score at 24-24. Then, 5:17 later, he found wide receiver Earl Bennett with a four-yard touchdown pass to put the Bears ahead to stay, 31-24.

The play to Jeffrey was spectacular. Cutler was hit by outside linebacker Jabaal Sheard just as threw (he was penalized for roughing the passer), causing the ball to flutter.

“When I let the ball go, I thought to myself, ‘Well, there goes interception No. 3. It’ll probably go 20 yards downfield,’ ”  Cutler said. “But somehow it got down there to Alshon.”

And when it did, Jeffrey outjumped two defenders at the 1 and then ducked between them and into the end zone for the score.

“Alshon did what Alshon does,” Cutler said.

Michael Bush ran 40 yards for another score with 2:17 left to put the score at 38-24 and all but seal the deal.

But the story of this game was Cutler, not just the way he played but the way he steadied himself after the rough start. He finished 22-of-31 passing for 265 yards and three touchdowns with two interceptions for a 102.2 quarterback rating.

“Jay made a couple of mistakes early, but overall, he was very sharp,” Trestman said. “He’ll get better as we move along.”

Added Marshall, “We all rallied around Jay in coming back. He led us in that fourth quarter.”

The win, their third in a row, puts the Bears at 8-6 and in the division lead with two games left. They move a half-game ahead of the Detroit Lions (7-6), who host the Baltimore Ravens on Monday night.

“I told the team we played well enough to win and put ourselves into position to compete for the division championship,” Trestman said. “But to win the division, we’ll have to play better.”