The Chicago Bears 40-23 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers was filled with one big play after another, and certainly some of the biggest were the five takeaways and 24 points they scored as a result.
But at the end of the night, the difference in the football game was three plays made by Jay Cutler with about 10 minutes left in the 4th quarter. The Steelers had closed to 27-23 with 10:43 left in the game, and the Bears needed to answer or risk losing the momentum for the evening.
But the Bears managed nothing on two Matt Forte rushes up the middle and at third and 10 were at serious risk of blowing a game they had led 27-10 in the third quarter. Then Jay Cutler, with no receivers available to him, scrambled out of the pocket to the first down marker and finished the run by running over Robert Golden for a 13-yard gain.
Quickly after Forte lost two yards off left guard and Cutler then missed Steve Maneri over the middle, it was 3rd and 12. With the pocket once again collapsing around him, Cutler seemed to just heave the ball 41 yards down the left sideline but somehow it landed on the back shoulder of Brandon Marshall.
After the game, Marshall would say, "Jay threw a 50-yard back shoulder throw. I've never seen that happen before." Actually, I doubt that was the plan but it was the end result, and suddenly the Bears had stolen back momentum that had escaped them minutes earlier.
Two plays later, again it was 3rd and five at the Steelers' 17 when Cutler, once again under pressure, appeared to make a desperation throw, perhaps even throwing the ball away in the direction of Earl Bennett. Bennett caught the ball on his way out of bounds in the end zone. The official ruled he was out and it seemed the Bears would settle for a 35 yard field goal, leaving them with just a one score lead.
According to Marc Trestman, he was told in his headset, "It was unanimous up in the coaches booth he should challenge the call," that Bennett had in fact gotten both feet down in bounds.
One thing Trestman has clearly upgraded over the Lovie Smith regime is the advice he's getting as to when to use his red flag. The call was overturned, Bennett was given a touchdown, the Bears held a 34-23 lead, and for all intents and purposes the Steelers were done.
Some would argue this one belonged to the defense, with two more defensive touchdowns. But when you allow one of the league's worst offenses to rack up 459 yards including 379 through the air, it's a little difficult to feel too good about their night's work.
While the defense did manage three quarterback sacks, two more than in the first two games combined, all three came from linebackers, and the only pressure the Bears managed was with the blitz, as their front four was ineffective again.
There was cause for celebration over the performances of Lance Briggs, who continues to play as well as he ever has as a Bear, and D.J. Williams, who showed up with two sacks for 18 yards lost and a forced fumble.
But in the end, it was Cutler's night for both the difference-making plays he made and the chameleon he has become.
After going just 12-8 for 75 yards in the first half, Cutler finished with 20-30, 159 yards, one touchdown and, most importantly, zero interceptions.
If he continues to make plays like he did on the 13-yard scramble in which he ran through Golden, leading with his right/passing shoulder, he will most likely finish the season on IR.
But until then, he has become the unquestioned leader of one of the six 3-0 teams in the NFL.