DETROIT -- Misgivings regarding the protection resulted in the Chicago Bears sending just two receivers out on the route for what -- given the situation -- might have been the been the most significant play of the season made by Jay Cutler.
With the Bears clinging to the lead on their own 47 with 3:28 left to play, Cutler broke off a 19-yard scramble on third and 3 to preserve not only the 26-24 win over the Detroit Lions Sunday, but also the club’s playoff hopes.
“That was a huge run,” Bears coach Lovie Smith said. “That might have been the biggest play of the game.”
Cutler dropped back looking to his right at fullback Evan Rodriguez, before coming back left toward Brandon Marshall. As the quarterback scanned the field, he noticed “I had a crease on the back side.” So Cutler scrambled left before sliding at the end of the 19-yard run to mitigate unnecessary punishment.
“They covered it up well,” Cutler said. “I thought Evan might sneak out of there. The linebacker got over the top, covered him up well. (I) had Marshall on a cross, kind of looked at him. They had him covered.”
But once Cutler noticed the opening on the backside, it became “whatever it takes to get a first down at that point,” he said.
The first down advanced the Bears to the Detroit 34 with 2:42 left to play. The Bears handed off to Forte the next play for no gain, forcing the Lions to call their final timeout, which eventually allowed Cutler to kneel on the final three plays to end the game.
“We did a nice job (in) coverage; gave up a lane,” Lions coach Jim Schwartz said. “At that point in the game, we needed to be in man coverage to play tight.”
The Bears knew that, which is likely why they called a route involving just two receivers so other players could stay in and provide more protection for the quarterback. Smith said typically teams “have to play man (coverage) in that situation,” and “if you break, a lot of times there’s room for a big run in that situation.”
“Any time you’re in man, you run the risk of once the quarterback escapes, what he can do,” Schwartz said. “He’s a very good scramble guy, and I thought for the most part our pressure had been pretty good. A couple of times they protected with eight guys and bought time (like) the first play of the game. In that situation, a quarterback scramble hurt us.”
Cutler finished the game with 257 yards passing and a passer rating of 95.8, after going three consecutive games in which he never generated a passer rating above 76.8. Cutler suffered only one sack, and sprayed passes to six receivers, the first time since Dec. 9 he completed passes to that many different targets.
Cutler completed a 55-yard pass to Jeffery on the first play from scrimmage and Jeffery finished with 76 yards on four grabs. Bennett finished with a game-high 109 yards and a touchdown on five receptions.
Marshall delivered the block that sprung Bennett on his 60-yard TD.
“We needed someone else of course besides just Brandon (Marshall),” Smith said. “(We) needed someone to really step up, and Earl did. We went to Alshon Jeffery quite a bit, too.”