CLEVELAND — Brandon Marshall hasn't even played two full seasons for the Bears, yet he knows how it works in Chicago.
The organization's decision this week to reinstall Jay Cutler as the starting quarterback despite backup Josh McCown's recent quality production polarized the fan base. And when Cutler threw two interceptions Sunday against the Browns before the midway point of the second quarter, a full-scale inquisition loomed.
"I can only imagine the commentators and the fans back at home after the first and second pick, what they were saying," Marshall said. "I'm sure they were ready to hang him."
And the Bears' playoff hopes were headed to the gallows too.
Cutler, though, did not capitulate. Instead, he responded by throwing three touchdown passes, including a go-head 4-yarder to Earl Bennett with less than six minutes remaining, and the resilient Bears summoned a season-saving comeback in a 38-31 victory at frosty FirstEnergy Field.
"I started off rusty," Cutler said. "I had some throws that were high. The guys rallied around me, though."
As a result, the Bears (8-6) headed home in sole possession of first place in the NFC North, leading the Lions by a half-game in the standings. The Lions host the Ravens on Monday night. The Bears also remained ahead of the Packers (7-6-1), who overcame a 23-point halftime deficit to beat the Cowboys.
By afternoon's end, Cutler wore a smile along with his suit, tie and scarf. He exuded relief, satisfaction and triumph as he introspectively answered questions about a week in which fans and media questioned whether he or McCown gave the Bears the best chance to win this season and beyond.
He sensed the magnitude of Sunday's game, not only with the Bears' playoff hopes at stake but also with uncertainty about whether the Bears will renew his expiring contract this offseason. With that came intense pressure.
"I'd be lying if I didn't say there was, with everything on the outside and as well as Josh played," Cutler said. "But this was the plan all along, and no one really flinched in our building."
Cutler didn't waver, either, after his two interceptions pushed the Bears' season to the brink.
After Tashaun Gipson returned his second interception 44 yards for a touchdown, he completed 14 of his final 18 passes for 161 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions and a passer rating of 143.5.
"Jay had a plan going in all week," coach Marc Trestman said. "I really felt that (Saturday) night; his experience, his demeanor as we talked over the call sheet after they came back from dinner. There was a lot of noise about this. We addressed the team about it, but the team stood strong and through the adversity, he embraced it. He didn't stop playing."
Cutler remained confident despite the turnovers and inaccuracy because he believed his mistakes were physical, not mental.
"I saw things fine," he said. "I thought I was moving in the pocket well. It's just a few throws that I probably wasn't coming all the way through, and they were sailing a little bit on me."
Through it all, Cutler saved his best for third down. He completed 11 of 12 third-down passes for 152 yards, two touchdowns, seven conversions and a perfect passer rating of 158.3.
"They had a pretty good array of blitzes and fronts up front for us on third down," Cutler said. "I thought the guys did a good job sorting them out. Whenever we caught man (coverage), I think, today we made them pay."
Meanwhile, the Bears' defense helped the offense overcome the slow start, and overall it played one of its best games of the season. They held the Browns' short-handed rushing attack to 93 yards, the Bears' fourth-best total of the season.
"Our tackling was crisper," Trestman said. "We ran through guys to tackle them. It was a good day, a sunny day for our run defense."
The same applied to Cutler. He parted the clouds that hovered over him and warded off the executioner.
On this day, he was just as much the victor as his team.
"It was fun getting back out there with them," he said, "and we're looking forward to moving on from this week."
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