Jay Cutler delivers as Bears drop Eagles
First, it was Eli Manning on Sunday afternoon, guiding his Giants team down the field for a late touchdown to knock off New England. Next, Joe Flacco took center stage, breaking the Steelers' hearts with a TD pass in the waning seconds.
Monday night, it was Jay Cutler's turn. The Bears quarterback sidestepped rush after rush, time and again creating something out of nothing, en route to 208 yards passing, two touchdowns and an absolutely critical 30-24 win over Philadelphia (RECAP | BOX).
In a matter of about 30 hours, three highly criticized, frequently questioned quarterbacks delivered signature victories.
Cutler has taken as much heat as any quarterback out there -- much of it warranted. But every once in a while, he delivers a performance like this, when he looks like the quarterback everyone always expected him to be.
"All season long, the guy's a stud," Brian Urlacher told the NFL Network's Albert Breer after the game. "He's been our go-to guy all season long."
He had a bunch of help Monday night, notably from the return of Earl Bennett. Chicago's fourth-year wide receiver had been out since Week 2 with a chest injury. Cutler threw to Bennett five times against the Eagles. Bennett caught all five for 95 yards and a touchdown.
Cutler's heroics also would have meant nothing without the efforts of the Bears' defense, which has had some shaky moments of its own in 2011. Up against Michael Vick, LeSean McCoy and the streaking Eagles, Chicago pitched a fourth-quarter shutout and limited big plays, giving Cutler and the Bears' offense a chance.
Still, for all that, the Eagles had two chances to steal this game.
"He was uncovered. We tried to throw him the ball and it didn't work," Andy Reid said. "We'll always stay aggressive."
Philadelphia's last drive moved as far as Chicago's 39, where Vick threw three straight incompletions. Then, on 4th-and-10, Vick delivered a high pass to Jeremy Maclin. Maclin made the grab, but in the process of reaching well over his head to haul in the errant throw, lost his balance and fell just shy of a first down.
Game over. Bears win.
It's hard to say they didn't earn it -- though Philadelphia fans will no doubt bemoan a shaky roughing-the-passer call late in the first half, which led to a Marion Barber TD run and a 17-10 Chicago lead.
The Bears overcame a pair of fumbles by Matt Forte, who hadn't been responsible for a single turnover since Week 7 of last year. They survived Julius Peppers injuring his knee and playing hobbled for much of the night, and Devin Hester hopscotching off the field late with an apparent leg injury.
No matter what came the Bears' -- and Cutler's -- way, they just kept going.
Chicago's fourth quarter offense was more improvised than a "Who's Line Is It Anyway?" episode, with Cutler throwing sidearmed, underhanded and just about any other way you can think of.
Plain and simple, he did what he needed to do to win this game. You can't say the same for Vick, who had his chances down the stretch and didn't get the job done.
There's no denying it now: Philadelphia is in major trouble. The Eagles' 1-4 start left them with almost no margin for error the rest of the season. Monday's loss dropped them to 3-5, with losses to wild-card contenders Atlanta and Chicago, plus a home dud against the first-place Giants.
In all reality, the Eagles now face the possibility of winning out or staying home, unless the Giants' tough schedule causes them to utterly collapse.
Chicago, on the other hand, has life. The Bears improved to 5-3 with a home game against 6-2 Detroit next Sunday. The winner of that one will find itself in prime position to get to the playoffs.
If Chicago can get there, who knows? When its defense is on its game, Chicago can hang with just about anyone -- so if Cutler can channel his Monday night performance a few more times, the Bears could be dangerous. If nothing else, they're feeling good about themselves right now. And they're definitely feeling good about their quarterback, who, for at least one night, quieted all his critics and turned in a stone-cold clutch performance.