DENVER -- Jay Cutler got the last laugh -- and now he can put Denver in his rearview mirror for good.
The Pro Bowl passer, who forced a blockbuster trade out of Denver last spring and became the Chicago Bears' first franchise quarterback since Sid Luckman, returned to Invesco Field on Sunday night and led his new team to a 27-17 preseason win over the Broncos.
Cutler disregarded the thousands of hecklers, including Broncos pass-rusher Elvis Dumervil, in leading Chicago on three scoring drives, capped by a 12-play, 98-yarder just before halftime that gave the Bears a 17-3 lead.
"It's a little bit weird. Different locker room, different sideline," Cutler said. "But that's how it goes. I love where I'm at in Chicago. I think we're heading in the right direction offensively."
Not so in Denver.
The adversary he left behind, Broncos rookie coach Josh McDaniels, had a distressing home debut. So did Denver's new quarterback, Kyle Orton, who gashed his right index finger to cut short a middling performance against his former team and left his new club to wonder if he'll be ready for the season opener in two weeks.
Cutler dodged a heavy blitz package and threw for 144 yards and a score in a crisp 15-for-21 performance. He called it a night at halftime and basking in the glow of his successful return to Invesco Field, where just eight months ago he was a beloved figure, a Pro Bowl passer and the heir apparent in this town to Hall of Famer John Elway
While fans came to jeer him, they also saw why they'll miss this immensely talented young quarterback.
"I thought it was going to be like this," Cutler said. "They got good fans here. A lot of boos -- they got pretty loud there at one point. It was what we kind of prepared for."
At one point on the Bears' 98-yard TD drive, the jeers turned to cheers when Dumervil blew past left tackle Orlando Pace for a third time and put a hit on Cutler after he had released the ball. The personal foul gave the Bears (2-1) a first down at the Denver 14, but the riled-up crowd didn't care.
Two plays later, Cutler feathered a 6-yard pass to running back Matt Forte in the end zone.
Some of the night's catcalls were directed at McDaniels. The brash 33-year-old coach chased off his franchise quarterback shortly after replacing Mike Shanahan and now finds himself in a bitter feud with star receiver Brandon Marshall, whom he suspended for insubordination last week.
McDaniels tried to play down the drama of this reluctant reunion -- neither man sought each other out for a handshake -- yet he couldn't help but notice the fans felt differently.
"It was a great atmosphere. This is certainly more than a six on a scale of 1 to 10," McDaniels said, taking a subtle shot at Cutler, who had disparaged Denver's fans recently by saying the Bears' followers were a 9 and Denver's a 6.
"There's certainly a level of excitement you don't usually see in most preseason games."
Wearing a hoodie like his mentor, Bill Belichick, McDaniels was flustered by an ineffective offense that committed multiple mistakes and plenty of penalties -- 10 for 86 yards -- and a defense that again couldn't force a turnover. Denver is minus-8 in takeaways in the preseason.
And now he's missing four playmakers on offense -- Orton, Marshall, receiver Jabar Gaffney (broken thumb in practice Friday) and top draft pick Knowshon Moreno (knee) -- plus right guard Chris Kuper, who appeared to break his right ankle in the first quarter.
After his follow-through on an incomplete pass to Correll Buckhalter before halftime, Orton glanced down at his bloody finger, held it up for the sideline to see and then trotted off the field. It appeared it was dislocated and he was trying to snap it back in place. He declined to say how many stitches he needed, if any.
McDaniels told NBC that Orton's finger wasn't broken but that more tests were needed.
Orton was 12 for 16 for 96 yards -- good numbers, sure, but in a half-dozen drives, he only led the Broncos (0-3) to a single field goal, not the kind of home debut he was anticipating after getting off to a rocky start in Denver with four interceptions so far.
Cutler received a rude reception from Denver's pass rush that hounded Chicago into three three-and-outs in the Bears' first four possessions. But the Bears went ahead for good at 10-3 on Forte's 1-yard run that followed Devin Hester's 54-yard punt return to the Denver 4. Then Cutler directed his 98-yard beauty and celebrated back to his bench.
"He was excited and he should be because it was a heck of a drive," Bears offensive coordinator Ron Turner said.
With Orton's backup, Chris Simms, sidelined by a high ankle sprain that could keep him out another month, the Broncos had to turn to rookie Tom Brandstater, who went 8 for 10 for 110 yards and an interception on a tipped pass.
The Broncos might have to start Brandstater in their preseason finale Thursday against Arizona.
"Look, we'll play with who we can play with," McDaniels said. "Life goes on sometimes in this league and you play with who you have."
A fitting epitaph on a night where Cutler walked away a winner, leaving behind a coach scrambling to patch a broken offense and a city wondering what might have been had these two men just gotten along.
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