Michael Vick might still capture the 2010 NFL Most Valuable Player award, but his marvelous season turned slightly mortal Sunday at Chicago’s Soldier Field.
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The Eagles quarterback threw his first interception since 2006 — a second-quarter throw the Bears turned into a touchdown just before halftime — and Chicago’s third-ranked defense limited the NFL’s most versatile offensive player to 44 yards rushing while sacking him four times for 40 yards.
But the Bears’ 31-26 victory, their fourth in a row, was less about what Vick didn’t do than what Jay Cutler finally did for a franchise that handpicked him in 2009 to be their franchise quarterback.
Utilizing the momentum of a strong running game and the introduction of a wildcat attack, Cutler threw four touchdown passes in a game between two NFC playoff contenders entering a key matchup with 7-3 records.
”It was a big game for us,” said Cutler, who has guided the Bears to first place in the NFC North. ”We talked about it in there. We have to keep going. We have to put this behind us. The true test in this league is consistency, especially in November and December, whether it’s third downs, red zone, turnovers or winning ballgames. We just have to keep going.”
Cutler’s finest outing in a Bears uniform got a big boost from running back Matt Forte’s 14-carry, 117-yard performance but was almost upended by Vick’s late scoring throw, a beautifully threaded 30-yard scoring throw to tight end Brent Celek with 1 minute, 48 seconds remaining.
The Eagles tried to make it more interesting with an onside-kick attempt by David Akers from the Philadelphia 30. Bears wide receiver Johnny Knox leaped and recovered the kick at the Eagles’ 43 and came down to the turf before appearing to place the ball on the ground. An Eagles player then scooped up the loose ball.
The referee ruled that Knox had given himself up on the play by going to the ground and, with less than two minutes remaning and Andy Reid therefore unable to challenge, the sequence never went to the replay official. Regardless, the Eagles had no timeouts left, and the Bears maintained possession with Cutler taking a knee three times to improve Chicago’s record to 8-3.
Vick completed 29 of 44 passes for 333 yards, two touchdowns and the interception, a good day by most NFL standards. But his offensive potential was limited by the Bears’ insistence on playing keep-away at various points.
”It’s going to be tough to put this one on the backburner,” Vick said. ”We have to do it.”
Chicago held the ball 10:10 in the second quarter and ate more clock (10:05) in the third on a 17-play, 83-yard drive that ended with a 23-yard field goal by Robbie Gould and a 31-13 Bears advantage.
Once the object of derision at Soldier Field after throwing an NFL-most 26 interceptions in 2009 — Cutler’s first season in Chicago after three seasons with Denver — the No. 11 overall pick in the 2006 NFL Draft ended up the dominant quarterback in Sunday’s showdown against the NFL’s top-rated passer.
Cutler sent a perfectly placed 34-yard pass into Devin Hester’s hands that set up a carefully threaded 9-yard scoring toss to Greg Olsen, Cutler’s fourth TD pass of the game. Suddenly the Bears were ahead 28-13 and the Eagles were forced into a frantic comeback mode.
Philadelphia got four field goals from Akers, and Vick’s previously near-flawless season — he lost a Week 11 fumble against the New York Giants — received another nick with his first interception of 2010.
Tommie Harris halted what appeared to be a sure Eagles scoring drive with two minutes remaining before halftime by tipping a Vick pass 2 yards deep in the end zone. Chris Harris came up with the interception and returned it 39 yards.
Cutler followed with a 30-yard completion to fellow Vanderbilt alum Earl Bennett, setting up a 6-yard touchdown connection between the two with 38 seconds left before the break.
FAN DIES: Authorities say a man has died after falling at least 20 feet from a ledge at Soldier Stadium while attending a Chicago Bears game.
Chicago police say the man fell around 4:55 p.m. Sunday during the NFL matchup between the Bears and the Philadelphia Eagles. He was pronounced dead at a local hospital.
Chicago Fire Chief Joe Roccasalva says the man landed on a small rooftop on the outside of the stadium. Witnesses told authorities the man ran to a ledge and jumped. Roccasalva says the man was in his 20s, but his name hasn’t been released.
It’s the second death in a week at a major sporting arena. On Nov. 21, a 2-year-old boy fell from a luxury box at the Staples Center during a Los Angeles Lakers game.