CLEVELAND - Jay Cutler felt the pressure and knew he had to perform well. There was no other option.
This wasn't the time to buckle. Not with his teammates, his coach, and frankly, all of Chicago counting on him. Once the rust came off, Cutler came through.
Shaking off two first-half interceptions, Cutler threw three touchdown passes in his first start since Nov. 10, leading the Bears to a 38-31 win yesterday over the Cleveland Browns. The Bears visit the Eagles next Sunday night.
Cutler, who missed Chicago's previous four games with a sprained left ankle and reclaimed his starting job from Josh McCown last week, threw a 4-yard TD pass to Earl Bennett with 5:41 left as the Bears (8-6) rallied in the second half and stayed in contention for an NFC playoff spot.
Cutler finished 22 of 31 for 265 yards and validated first-year coach Marc Trestman's decision to stick with him over McCown, who had played so well while filling in for Chicago's starter. Trestman's choice didn't come without controversy.
There were reports of division within Chicago's locker room, but on a brutally cold and blustery day in Cleveland, the Bears were united.
"The guys rallied around me," Cutler said. "I'd be lying if I didn't say there was [pressure] with everything on the outside and as well as Josh has played. But this was the plan all along and no one really flinched in our building."
Michael Bush's 40-yard TD run with 2:17 left sealed it for the Bears, who completed a four-game sweep of the AFC North and won their first road game since Nov. 4, when McCown led them to a win over Green Bay.
Trestman had promised Cutler would keep his job once he was healthy. And after Cutler was cleared earlier this week to practice, Trestman kept his word and started the not-always-popular veteran, a decision that had some Bears fans questioning whether it might be better to stick with the hot McCown, who has thrown 13 TD passes and just one interception this season.