Coming off a victory against the Dallas Cowboys, the Chicago Bears benched backup quarterback and NFC Offensive Player of the Week Josh McCown on Sunday for the return of starter Jay Cutler. Despite a rocky start, the Bears held off the Cleveland Browns and grabbed a 38-31 victory on Sunday afternoon.
The Lions will feel all of the pressure on Monday night against a Baltimore team that is also fighting for its playoff life.
Here are my five takeaways from the Bears' 38-31 victory over the Browns.
Following a stretch of games that saw Josh McCown throw 11 touchdowns to just one interception, some were questioning the Bears' willingness to bring Jay Cutler back as the starter once he fully healed from the ankle injury that he suffered earlier this season.
Cutler made many of his detractors feel vindicated when he tossed an interception on the first drive and delivered another one to safety Tashaun Gipson, who returned the pick 44 yards for a touchdown.
He finished the first half 13-of-19 for 168 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions for a passer rating of 73.9.
Some crucial pass interference calls aided him in the second half, but he finished the game 22-of-31 for 265 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions for a passer rating of 102.2.
When asked after the game how he felt in his return, he told Fred Mitchell of the Chicago Tribune:
I started off rusty. Had some throws that were high. The guys rallied around me, they played really well, made some big-time catches, the offensive line played great. So it was good to get back out there, a really good team win.
Was it a perfect game for Cutler? Certainly not, but he showed resolve and was able to fight through adversity. If the Bears want to make a serious playoff run, this game may have helped lay the groundwork.
It is starting to become a weekly tradition that Alshon Jeffery is going to make at least one spectacular catch. And on Sunday, he did not disappoint.
On a 95-yard drive that was aided by two defensive penalties, Jay Cutler hit Jeffery for a 45-yard touchdown, which tied the game at 24 apiece.
Cutler was hit during his release, and Jeffery had to spin around while putting himself in a position to rise higher than safety Tashaun Gipson to haul in the catch.
Jeffery was not shy after the game when talking about his big catch. He told Adam Hoge of CBS Chicago, “I make my quarterback look good and he makes me look good.”
He has had a knack for big catches in recent weeks, having made amazing grabs against the Minnesota Vikings and Dallas Cowboys. As a result, he has made his quarterbacks look good along the way.
His overall targets were down for the day in comparison to the last few weeks, but he still finished with five catches for 72 yards and one touchdown.
Heading into Sunday's tilt with the Cleveland Browns, the Bears run defense was ranked dead last in the NFL, giving up 157 yards per game on average.
The Bears had allowed a 100-yard rusher in each of the last six games but held their own on Sunday against an unspectacular group of running backs.
Edwin Baker led the way with 38 yards on eight carries, while Cleveland finished with just 93 yards on 17 carries. The interior play of Jeremiah Ratliff and Corey Wootton helped set the tone in the running game, while James Anderson finished the game with a team-high 11 tackles.
The rookie linebacker duo of Jon Bostic and Khaseem Greene struggled again at times, but neither had the glaring mistakes that they made last week against the Dallas Cowboys.
A big test for the run defense will come this week against LeSean McCoy and the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday Night Football. Heading into Week 15, McCoy leads the NFL in rushing yards with 1,305. If the Bears want to remain in the playoff hunt, slowing down the run must be the No. 1 priority on defense.
Despite his frustrating interceptions early on Sunday, Cutler was spectacular on third downs. He completed 11 of his 12 passing attempts on third downs for 151 yards and two touchdowns.
Credit the overall play of the offensive line, which allowed just two sacks to a team that was ninth in the league with 37 sacks on the season.
Head coach Marc Trestman was complimentary of Cutler's performance—and not just on third down. He told Fred Mitchell of the Chicago Tribune:
He had to handle a lot this week, probably more than at any time in his career. His teammates had his back the whole time. You have to be mentally tough to do what he did today, very mentally tough. Not only to get through the week, but to get through a game in harsh conditions, and throwing two picks in the first half -- it says a lot about the man.
Despite the two picks in the first half, Cutler remained confident in his abilities, and that showed on third-down situations. Chicago has struggled this season on third downs in short-yardage situations, and Cutler's strong outing could allow Trestman to be more willing to throw on 3rd-and-short.
Matt Forte entered Sunday's contest fourth in the NFL in rushing with 1,073 yards. Despite the fact that Jay Cutler threw the ball 31 times against the Cleveland Browns, Forte quietly racked up 127 yards on 24 carries.
The Browns entered Sunday as the fourth-best team against the run, allowing just 98 yards per game. Before Forte's 127 yards, the Browns had not allowed an individual rusher to gain more than 88 yards in a single game.
For as much publicity that Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery get on a weekly basis, Forte has been putting up one of his most productive seasons to date. He currently has 1,200 yards rushing with seven touchdowns while also catching 66 passes for 522 yards and two touchdowns.
While Marshall and Jeffery deserve the praise they have been given, Forte has continually been one of the team's most complete players.