- Michael C. Wright, ESPN Staff Writer
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What it means: Jay Cutler shook off a horrid beginning with three touchdown passes to go with a passer rating of 102.2 to keep the Bears in the mix in the NFC North title race. What’s more, there’s a chance the Detroit Lions could help out the Bears on Monday night against the Baltimore Ravens. If the Lions defeat the Ravens, they’ll remain ahead of the Bears by a half-game in the NFC North standings with just two contests left to play. But if Detroit falls, the Bears will lead the division, with a realistic shot at winning it.
Almost a statistical anomaly: Typically the Bears win games when they score defensive touchdowns. But the club nearly bucked that trend in Cleveland.
Coming into the game, the Bears had won 11 consecutive games when they scored a defensive touchdown. So when Zack Bowman helped the Bears score 14 points in just 1 minute, 41 seconds to turn a 10-3 halftime deficit into 17-10 lead with his 43-yard interception return at the 13:48 mark of the third quarter, it appeared the visitors were well on the way to yet another victory by way of a defensive score. After all, since 2005, the Bears had racked up a 25-2 record in games they scored a defensive TD. The record is now 26-2, but an offense that allowed the Browns to score two defensive touchdowns almost ruined that.
Score TDs, don’t give them up: Chicago’s offense is supposed to score touchdowns, not surrender them. But the Bears nearly negated a decent performance by the struggling defense when they granted Cleveland’s defense a couple of freebie touchdowns. Cutler started the giveaway party in the second quarter by throwing an interception that was returned 44 yards for a touchdown by Tashaun Gipson that put the Browns up 10-3.
Then, in the third quarter, Martellus Bennett caught a 5-yard pass from Cutler, only to cough it up on a hit from Billy Winn. T.J. Ward scooped up that loose ball and returned it 51 yards for a score to help Cleveland end the third quarter with a 24-17 lead.
Blown opportunity: Bowman intercepted Jason Campbell in the second quarter to give Chicago possession at its own 40, and although the Bears moved quickly into Browns territory, they blew an opportunity to score. On fourth-and-1 at the Cleveland 24, receiver Alshon Jeffery was flagged for false start as the Bears attempted to convert for a first down. That penalty moved back the Bears and forced Robbie Gould to kick a 46-yard field goal. Gould connected on the kick, but Corey Wootton was called for holding.
That quick sequence of plays forced the Bears to punt when they were in prime position to put points on the board.
What’s next: The Bears face Philadelphia, which fell at Minnesota, on the road Sunday in a game flexed to a prime-time kickoff. Given where the Bears and the Eagles sit in their respective divisions and the fact that only two games remain, this contest is shaping up as a crucial one for both clubs.