Chicago overcame a lost touchdown, a fluke interception and an overturned fumble recovery, but got three TD passes from Jay Cutler and forced four turnovers – including three Favre interceptions – en route to a 27-13 win over Minnesota.
Jay Cutler and the Bears didn’t get the breaks Sunday, but they were able to break Brett Favre and the Vikings.
Chicago overcame a lost touchdown, a fluke interception and an overturned fumble recovery, but got three TD passes from Cutler and forced four turnovers – including three Favre interceptions – en route to a 27-13 win over Minnesota.
The Bears (6-3) are now tied with Green Bay for first place in the NFC North, while two-time defending champ Minnesota (3-6) is in trouble.
“The writing is on the wall,” Favre said.
The script reads a lot better for the Bears, who looked good on both sides of the ball for the second straight week.
“It’s all starting to come together. We’re getting a lot more comfortable with this offense,” Cutler said. “And the defense did another stellar job – they’ve been carrying us all year long, and they did it again today.”
All three of Favre’s interceptions came in the second half, including a diving catch by Bears safety Chris Harris to ice the game late. Defensive end Israel Idonije and nickel back D.J. Moore combined for another tip-to-pick play deep in Vikings territory, leading to a key third-quarter field goal from Robbie Gould. And linebacker Lance Briggs got his second interception right after a Bears fumble recovery was challenged and overturned.
“We had control of the game most of the time; a few turnovers knocked us back a bit, but for the most part we did what we wanted to do today,” Bears head coach Lovie Smith said. “It feels good. Our goal is to win the division, that’s what it’s all about. We’re in first place now, and this is setting us up. The teams that are really going to compete step up now and play their best ball. That’s what we’re doing.”
Cutler was sharp throughout. Despite having one TD pass called back due to a penalty and having a nice throw bounce off wideout Johnny Knox’s arm and into a defender’s hands for an interception, Cutler continued to find a way.
He spread the ball out to nine wide receivers, completing 22-for-35 for 237 yards with three TDs and two interceptions. He was sacked just once, and had a 25-yard, third-down scramble that set up Chicago’s first score.
Cutler orchestrated a 10-play, 71-yard drive early in the second quarter to put Chicago ahead 7-3. He completed a 13-yard TD pass to tight end Greg Olsen which was called back for a hold, but then followed that up with a 17-yard TD pass to Olsen.
“This was probably as good a three-phase performance that our team has had,” Olsen said. “As you’ve seen the last two weeks, we’ve been able to make some plays and kind of ad-lib a little bit down the field when (Jay’s) broken contain.”
Favre answered back, finding a streaking Percy Harvin down the sidelines for a 53-yard TD on the first play after a Bears punt.
But again, Cutler calmly led the Bears on another scoring drive, getting plenty of time in the pocket, scrambling for more time and yards when needed, and finding Devin Hester on a quick-in for a 19-yard TD with 44 seconds left in the half for a 14-10 Chicago lead.
Hester led the Bears in the third quarter with a 68-yard kickoff return and a 42-yard punt return.
“Everything just seemed so easy today,” Hester said. “Guys just went out and busted their tails and got on their guys and gave me an opportunity to find holes.”
His 68-yard, tackle-breaking weave to the Viking 34 set up Robbie Gould’s second field goal of the day, boosting the Bears lead to 20-13 midway through the third. Another set up Cutler’s 19-yard TD pass to Kellen Davis.
Briggs’ and Harris’s interceptions in the final 8:29 locked down the win.
“It’s definitely a race,” Briggs said, “and we’re going to make this race a hard one for Green Bay.”
Veteran center Olin Kreutz, who knows the Bears have a quick turnaround week ahead of them, added: “We’re in first place, and we like that. We’re going to enjoy this one for, well, not that long I guess.”
Chicago will hit the road to take on Miami (5-4) for a Thursday night game this week. Chicago will be coming off its first back-to-back wins since its 3-0 start, while the Dolphins are just 1-3 at home, but are coming off a 29-17 whipping of Tennessee inside Sun Life Stadium on Sunday.
BEARS REPORT CARD
Passing offense: A-
Jay Cutler looked comfortable in and out of the pocket all day, throwing for 237 yards and three TDs while rushing for 24 yards when forced out. He spread the ball around to nine different receivers, kept the offense on the field by converting 11-of-19 third-down conversions and was in sync with his team all day.
Rushing offense: C+
Matt Forte and Chester Taylor combined for 102 yards on 32 carries, but just five of the team’s 18 first downs came via the rush, and the Bears ran the ball only once on its 19 third-down tries. Forte outgained Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson 69-51, but this game was more of a battle of passing attacks.
Passing defense: A
Brett Favre looked flustered in the pocket Sunday, and completed just 18-for-31 passes for 170 yards. He had one TD and three interceptions, even fumbled once and finished with a passer rating of 44.5. Picks by D.J. Moore, Lance Briggs and Chris Harris iced this one down in the second half.
Rushing defense: A
The Bears held one of the best backs in the league, Adrian Peterson, to 51 yards on 17 carries. He had a long run of 20, but never really threatened to break a big one. This team continued to show why it is one of the toughest in the league to run against.
Special teams: B+
Robbie Gould just missed a 43-yard field goal, but several nice Devin Hester returns and solid special teams in general helped Chicago to this win.
The call to use Devin Hester more as a returnman was key. Lovie Smith was not forced to use his challenging skills – or lack-thereof – in this one, and there were no glaring coaching decisions that weighed heavily on the outcome. Still, Smith was better than Brad Childress, a coach who could be out of a job soon.
This was a big win for the Bears. They moved into first in the division, forced Minnesota into a panic mode, and set things up for a productive short week that could end with a win in Miami on Thursday night and a 7-3 record.
-- Compiled by Jay Taft