As the 61-yard field goal off of the magical foot of Baltimore Ravens kicker Justin Tucker split the uprights in Detroit to vault the Ravens ahead of the Lions, the general response of Bears fans was, "Wow, we're still in this thing."
Now with wins over the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday Night Football and the rival Green Bay Packers the following Sunday, the Bears will be NFC North division champions for the first time since 2010.
With Sunday comes a chance at redemption for the Bears on a number of different levels. Quarterback Jay Cutler can help lead Chicago to the playoffs for the second time during his tenure with the team and change his perception as an average regular-season quarterback.
While improbable, the Bears run defense can turn the tide with a major statement against Philadelphia running back LeSean McCoy, one of the top men out of the backfield in the league.
Additionally, the Bears can turn around their recent struggles on Sunday Night Football. The primetime spot has presented them with trouble for the better part of Cutler's tenure with the team.
Should the Bears be able to turn around their fortunes on all of those different levels, a date with the Packers will be all that stands in the way of them and a division title.
Cutler's Shot at Redemption
Even though Cutler holds a career record of 56-46 as a starting quarterback, he has only led his team to the playoffs once. That one appearance saw Cutler lead the Bears to one playoff victory before losing to the Packers in the NFC Championship Game, a game that he missed the second half due to injury.
A win for Cutler on Sunday night would push him one step closer to another playoff appearance, and it would push him one step closer to a big contract this offseason. Primed for free agency in the offseason, a marquee performance from Cutler in primetime could go a long way towards convincing Chicago brass that he's the quarterback of the future.
Missing several games this season with groin and ankle injuries, Cutler became the subject of a quarterback controversy in Chicago with replacement Josh McCown.
In Cutler's absence, McCown posted a quarterback rating of 109.8 while tossing 13 touchdowns against just one interception. Those numbers caused opinions to swirl around the Windy City that McCown should remain the starting quarterback even when Cutler returned from injury.
However, as soon as Cutler was medically cleared to play, head coach Marc Trestman reinstated Cutler as the starting quarterback. In typical Cutler fashion, No. 6 threw for three touchdowns and two interceptions in the Bears' 38-31 win over the Cleveland Browns. That performance gave little clarity to the quarterback debate in Chicago.
Winning in Philadelphia on Sunday Night Football should silence many critics. Playing against an injury-riddled defensive backfield, Cutler has a good chance to put an end to the Bears' quarterback debate once and for all. In fact, it's the defense and not the offense that Bears fans should be worried about.
Bears Defense Faces Tough Test in McCoy
It has been well-advertised that the Bears have had a more than porous run defense this season, ranking dead last in the league against the run, giving up 152.4 yards per game on the ground, which is 20 more yards per game than the next closest team.
There is likely no running back this struggling defense would rather not face than Eagles' running back LeSean McCoy. Philadelphia's fifth-year man out of Pittsburgh leads the league in rushing attempts, rushing yards and yards from scrimmage. McCoy's dual-threat ability is a recipe for disaster for the Bears defense.
As unfavorable as this matchup looks for the Bears on paper, their performance against the Browns running game last weekend presents a glimmer of hope. Facing the lackluster Cleveland running game, the Bears gave up just 93 total rushing yards.
While McCoy is much more formidable than the backs who Cleveland has, last Sunday's performance could be a major confidence boost for a young and inexperienced Bears defense.
More important than confidence is the fact that the Bears could be getting Pro Bowl outside linebacker Lance Briggs back from injury on Sunday, per USA Today. The emotional and physical leader of the defense, Briggs' return could mean everything to a Bears defense short on experience.
If—and it's a big if—the Bears can limit McCoy's effectiveness on the ground, their chances of winning on the road Sunday night will sky rocket. Even though quarterback Nick Foles has been excellent for the Eagles this year, the Chicago pass defense has been solid this year, and McCoy is the player most capable of hurting them.
Sunday Night Woes Put to the Test
Since Cutler became a Bear, Chicago is 2-5 on Sunday Night Football. That record will have to improve to 3-5 to give the Bears a chance at their second division title since they reached the Super Bowl in the 2006-07 season.
While it was the Lovie Smith Bears that seemed relatively clueless on Sunday Night Football, Marc Trestman's Bears are 1-0 in those games. That could be attributed to the team's better halftime adjustments under the super-prepared first-year head coach.
This game is again likely to be a shootout, a storyline that Bears fans are getting more and more used to. No matter the final score, high scoring or low scoring, a check mark in the win column Sunday could help reverse fortunes for the Bears on a number of fronts.
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