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It's Cutler to the rescue for Bears

ATLANTA -- It took six seconds Sunday for a high-arcing pass to cut through the recirculated air of the Georgia Dome and travel 56 yards from Jay Cutler's right arm into Alshon Jeffery's waiting hands.

Six seconds doesn't seem like much in real life, but in the hyperspeed of a football game, it's an eternity. Jeffery had time to field the pass like a center fielder, adjusting and twisting and then letting the ball come down softly into a pair of giant hands cradled against his body.

"I was like, 'Is the ball going to get here? Is it going to come down?'" Jeffery said after the game.

It came down all right, and one play later, Matt Forte ran for a 6-yard touchdown.

That pass, which wound up going for 74 yards from line of scrimmage to where the Falcons finally brought Jeffery down, was the spark the Chicago Bears needed to erase their second-half touchdown drought and end a two-game losing streak with a 27-13 victory over the Atlanta Falcons.

Exhale, Bears fans. This season isn't over yet. At 3-3, Chicago is alive. Who knows what next week will bring, but this team flew back to Chicago in great spirits.

It's not wrong to assume that in those six seconds, a season hung in the balance for a reeling Bears team in an existential funk.

The Bears were billed as an exciting offensive power, but they struggled to score. Was the Marc Trestman Offensive Machine more hype than reality?

Football players don't traffic in such narratives, but after the game ended, it was easy to mark that play as the turning point in the game -- and maybe the season.

"It was big," Cutler said. "Big momentum swing right there."

If Bears had lost this game and fallen to 2-4, on the same day the Green Bay Packers ripped off a last-second comeback over Miami, it wouldn't have been pretty.

With a banged-up defense missing all three starting linebackers, it was imperative that the offense carry its weight, if not its outsize reputation. The defense turned out just fine, as the No-Name Linebackers worked in harmony with the defensive line to shut down the Falcons' running game and rattle quarterback Matt Ryan, who loses in the Georgia Dome as often as Cutler compliments reporters.

As for the offense, it was efficient and, most important, it closed in the red zone. Forte (157 all-purpose yards) got his first two rushing touchdowns of the season.

Cutler's only touchdown pass was a 3-yard pass to Josh Morgan in the second quarter, but the quizzical QB set a new personal Bears high with 381 yards passing.

Brandon Marshall, who had been playing through an ankle injury, caught six passes for 113 yards, highlighted by a 47-yard catch to set up the Bears' first touchdown. It was his first 100-yard game of the year.

Sure, the Falcons' defense stinks, but the Carolina Panthers' defense isn't great. Neither is the Packers'. This was about the Bears, not their opponent.

"We got things going and we kept things going," tight end Martellus Bennett said. "We didn't have a stalemate."

As the second half began, it was looking like the same old story for the Bears. The Falcons scored 10 unanswered points to tie the game at 13-13.

For context, the Bears had scored a whopping three points over their previous two second halves. In the 31-24 loss at Carolina in Week 5, they had 27 yards in five fourth-quarter possessions. Cutler, with a little help from his friends, was killing the team with late turnovers.

But in this game, there was only life.

After Forte's first touchdown, the defense held the Falcons to a three-and-out -- and in their next drive, the Bears went 87 yards in 15 plays, taking 8 minutes, 28 seconds off the clock. The Bears converted four third downs on that drive, led by Bennett's 25-yard catch on a seam route on third-and-11 and Forte's 9-yard touchdown. A two-point conversion to Bennett made it 27-13.

As always, the protagonist of this story was No. 6, whose recent foibles had revived the philosophical arguments that have defined his Bears career. Was he the worst best quarterback or the best worst quarterback? Misunderstood or overrated?

He'll never answer his doubters until he plays like this on a consistent basis, but this was a nice starting point.

With Marshall and Jeffery battling injuries, the Bears hadn't had much of a vertical game this season. But that changed Sunday as half of Cutler's yards came in five throws.

"We came into it knowing we were going to have to get some chunks," Cutler said. "We couldn't just dink and dunk."

Despite a yardage high, Cutler wouldn't allow that this was his best game as a Bear.

"It didn't feel like it," Cutler said. "It felt like it just happened in the course of the game. We got some big shots. I didn't know that. When I got into the locker room, I was surprised to hear that."

But in truth, the number zero is more important than 381. Cutler didn't throw an interception in this game.

The Bears are 3-0 this season when he doesn't throw a pick and 0-3 when he does. He's thrown two interceptions in each loss, and several of them came in crucial moments late in close games.

"We always say that," Trestman said. "It came down to again taking care of the football and it always does."

The Bears took care of the ball, took their chances downfield and in turn, took control of their season.