5 things to know after Bears beat Browns 38-31

Before he returned to the field, Jay Cutler had to make sure his

teammates wanted him back.

It wasn’t a given.

Chicago’s starting quarterback knew there might be some

resistance to him replacing Josh McCown, who had played so well

while Cutler was out four games with a sprained ankle. So Cutler

talked to wide receiver Brandon Marshall. He spoke with running

back Matt Forte and then met with his offensive linemen.

They all told Cutler he was their man.

And Sunday they made him believe it.

”They didn’t flinch,” Cutler said. ”They were like, `You’re

our guy. Glad to have you back.’ And they played like it.”

Cutler overcame a rusty start by throwing three touchdown passes

Sunday, rallying the Bears to a 38-31 win over the Cleveland

Browns, who dropped their fifth straight game despite scoring a

pair of defensive TDs in their home finale.

Earlier this week, Bears coach Marc Trestman stuck to his plan

to start Cutler once he was healthy even though McCown had led the

Bears (8-6) to wins the previous two weeks and was playing as well

as any quarterback in the league. Trestman’s decision didn’t get

unanimous approval and led to reports that Chicago’s locker was

split into pro-Cutler and pro-McCown camps.

But on a cold day in Cleveland, the Bears were united.

”Everyone was all-in on it and I appreciate it,” said Cutler,

who threw two interceptions in the first half. ”The guys rallied

around me.”

Trestman praised his team for blocking out distractions and

taking care of business to keep its NFC playoff hopes moving

forward.

”There was a lot of noise around our team this week,” Trestman

said. ”They hung together.”

Cutler threw a 4-yard TD pass in the fourth quarter to Earl

Bennett to give the Bears a 31-24 lead, and Michael Bush’s 40-yard

TD run with 2:17 left put Chicago up by 14.

The Browns (4-10) got a late touchdown pass from Jason Campbell

to Josh Gordon to get within seven, but Cleveland, which lost a

heartbreaker last week in New England when it couldn’t recover an

onside kick in the final minute, was called for an illegal

formation trying one of its own and the Bears ran out the

clock.

A month ago, the Browns were on the edge of the playoff

picture.

Cleveland has not only fallen off, but seen a season of promise

disintegrate again. The Browns, who have blown late leads in their

last three losses, have lost at least 10 games the past six

seasons.

Here are five things we learned as Chicago moved temporarily

into first place in the NFC North.

HADEN’S HIP: The Browns lost star cornerback Joe Haden with a

hip pointer in the second half.

Haden’s absence allowed Cutler to pick on Cleveland’s less

experienced defensive backs, a key in Chicago’s comeback. Haden is

having a Pro Bowl-caliber season, but he has been burned on big

plays in the past few weeks and his injury could put any possible

trip to Hawaii in jeopardy.

MARSHALL PLAN: Marshall was Cutler’s intended target on the two

first-half picks.

Both throws were intercepted by Browns safety Tashaun Gipson,

who returned the second one 44 yards for a TD to put the Browns

ahead 10-3.

Marshall took blame for the first miscue.

”The second one, he just threw a terrible ball, so that’s on

Jay,” Marshall joked as Cutler stood nearby smiling in the

interview room.

GORDON GROUNDED: Gordon finally looked mortal.

After having the best four-game statistical stretch by any

receiver in NFL history, Gordon had a pedestrian performance with

three catches for 67 yards. In his previous four games, Gordon

totaled 774 yards receiving with five touchdowns, jaw-dropping

highlights and a handful of team and league records.

”There could have been more plays made,” said Gordon, who was

involved in a minor traffic accident on Saturday. ”I feel that

way, but that’s just every game, there were a few more plays we

could have made and wins we could have had. It’s just

unfortunate.”

UP FOR GRABS: Cutler’s second TD pass could have easily been his

third interception.

With the Browns leading 24-17 early in the fourth, Cutler heaved

a 45-yard pass toward the end zone as he was hit by Cleveland’s

Jabaal Sheard. The ball hung in the air, got pushed around in the

blustery conditions and Bears wide receiver Alshon Jeffery was able

to outfight Gipson and defensive back Julien Posey for the TD.

”My arm got hit, so I didn’t think it was going to get there,”

Cutler said. ”I was on the ground, and I was like, `There’s

(interception) No. 3,’ because I just thought it was going to float

20 yards down the field. Somehow it got all the way down there and

Alshon does what Alshon does best.”

DIVISION CHAMPS: While taking a one-half game lead over idle

Detroit in the NFC North, the Bears completed a four-game sweep of

the AFC North.

Chicago beat Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Cleveland

this season.

The Bears visit Philadelphia next week.

AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org