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Sunday, December 15, 2013
Five things we learned vs. Browns

By Jeff Dickerson

CLEVELAND -- Here are five things we learned in the Chicago Bears’ 38-31 victory over the Cleveland Browns:

1. Marc Trestman can exhale: The reaction in Chicago if the Bears had lost to Cleveland after Trestman decided to start Jay Cutler over Josh McCown would have been ugly. Trestman left himself open to tons of criticism by sitting the reigning NFC Offensive Player of the Week in favor of Cutler, but in the end, Cutler responded in the second half to finish with 265 yards and three touchdowns to go along with two first-half interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown. He didn’t play his best game of the season, but Cutler shook off the rust of sitting out the past four weeks with a high-ankle sprain to make enough plays to defeat the pesky Browns. Now that Cutler is back in the win column for the first time since Oct. 10, he clearly gives the Bears the best shot to win at the Philadelphia Eagles next Sunday night in a game many expect to be a shootout.

2. Cutler handled national reports in stride: Cutler didn’t appear rattled when confronted with the information that two national reports surfaced prior to the game that questioned the level of commitment to the quarterback inside Halas Hall. Cutler described how he received reassurances from the offensive line that he “was the guy” despite McCown’s success running the offense the past four weeks. There is no reason to doubt the accuracy of either report, but the notion of a mutiny in Lake Forest, Ill., seems unlikely now that Cutler won a game for the Bears on the road. Winning cures everything in the NFL. Players might still prefer McCown to Cutler, but the decision is set in stone: Cutler is the Bears’ quarterback for the rest of 2013, and perhaps beyond.

3. Career season for Matt Forte: Amid all the attention paid to the quarterback position, Forte is quietly having his best professional season. Already with a career-high 66 receptions, Forte’s 127 rushing yards against the Browns give the tailback 1,200 for the season. Forte is just 38 rushing yards shy of his career-best mark, 1,238, that he tallied his rookie season of 2008. With the effort in Cleveland, Forte has four 100-yard rushing games on the season and appears to be hitting his stride right in time for the Bears’ playoff push. For all the talk about running backs falling of a cliff in terms of production when they reach a certain age, Forte, 28, looks to be getting stronger.

4. Zack Bowman in the 2014 mix? With the Pro Bowl cornerback duo of Tim Jennings and Charles Tillman set to be free agents in the offseason, Bowman, who’s contract also expires after the season, could be a candidate to return next season and compete for a starting spot in the event Tillman or Jennings signs with another team. Bowman’s best game of the season came Sunday, when he intercepted two passes and returned one for a touchdown, but the veteran has done a serviceable job since replacing Tillman in the starting lineup on Nov. 17 versus the Baltimore Ravens. Bowman’s size and speed, 6-foot-1 and 196 pounds, lends itself to playing both zone and man coverage, depending on what style of defense the Bears ultimately run in 2014.

5. Alshon Jeffery deserves to be a Pro Bowler: No disrespect to Brandon Marshall (90 catches for 1,185 yards and 10 touchdowns), but Jeffery is the Bears' most dangerous weapon in the passing game. Jeffery’s catch radius is off the charts. The latest in Jeffery’s long list of highlight-reel receptions occurred in the fourth quarter Sunday, when he somehow managed to haul in a Cutler Hail Mary pass in the end zone for a 45-yard touchdown. In the past three weeks, Jeffery has a combined 23 catches for 404 yards and four touchdowns. Three of the touchdowns were worthy of NFL play of the week honors. The upside for Jeffery appears to be limitless. He now has 80 receptions for 1,265 yards and seven touchdowns. If the Pro Bowl is designed to showcase the very best the league has to offer, then Jeffery ought to be included.