By Adam Hoge-
PITTSBURGH (CBS) — With yellow towels helicoptering over a rambunctious crowd on what was supposed to be one of Pittsburgh’s finest sports days, Heinz Field appeared ready to give the Bears their first real test of the season.
But what the black and gold didn’t see coming was the new Jay Cutler, the guy who once again walked into the huddle as cool as the 53 degree temperature hovering over the Allegheny.
This time the Bears had the lead, but it was evaporating quickly. A 24-3 first half advantage had morphed into a 27-23 nail-biter with 10:38 left in the fourth quarter.
But maybe Brandon Marshall was onto something when he dubbed Cutler “Mr. Fourth Quarter” last week after the quarterback’s second game-winning fourth quarter drive in two weeks.
Up to that point in the game, the Bears were just 2-of-10 on third down, but the quarterback was about to change that.
Facing a 3rd-and-10 from his own 26-yard-line, Cutler scrambled left out of the pocket, turned upfield and gained 13 yards before finishing the run with an emphatic blow to Steelers safety Robert Golden with his right throwing shoulder.
“I wanted to make sure I got the first down,” Cutler said after the game. “Whenever you slide, usually it goes back to the point at where you start to slide. I just wanted to make sure I picked it up.”
He did. But three plays later, the quarterback was now looking at a 3rd-and-12 from his own 37-yard-line.
This time, graced with some much-needed protection, Cutler stepped into his throw and threw a firecracker down the left sideline to Pittsburgh native Brandon Marshall, who hauled in the catch for a 41-yard gain.
“Jay threw a 50-yard back shoulder,” Marshall said. “I’ve never seen that happen before.”
But Cutler was about to top that with his next third down. Facing 3rd-and-5 at the Steelers’ 17-yard-line, he was pressured quickly, but still recognized the man-to-man coverage. That put seldom-targeted Earl Bennett first in the progression and Cutler threw it to the only place he could: the far left side of the end zone, where only his guy could catch it.
“I was happy to see man (coverage). Thought I was a tick late on it, but Earl made a heck of catch in the corner for us,” Cutler said.
At first it didn’t look like a catch. Bennett appeared to haul in the ball out of bounds and the referees ruled it incomplete.
“Right away I didn’t think it was a catch,” Bennett said. “I kind of went off the crowd’s reaction.”
Fortunately, the Bears’ coaching staff upstairs didn’t.
“There was some time there and we talked about it upstairs,” Trestman said. “I said take another look at it. It wasn’t even a majority of the guys. It was unanimous that Earl Bennett was inbounds. The guys upstairs did a good job with that.”
Trestman threw his red beanie near the 20-yard-line as soon as he got the word and once the replays were shown, it was evident that Bennett had gotten both of his feet in-bounds with possession.
From there, the defense did what it does best, as moments later Lance Briggs popped the football right out of Ben Roethlisberger’s hand and into the arms of Julius Peppers, who returned it 42 yards to finish off a 40-23 win on the road.
Of course, the Bears coaching staff will wonder why the late-game heroics were needed. Despite forcing five takeaways in the game (and scoring two touchdowns), the Bears’ defense allowed Roethlisberger to throw for 406 yards in the game, allowing a comeback the neighboring Pirates would have killed for down the street earlier in the day.
But after years of the defense saving the offense, it was once again the right arm of Jay Cutler turning the tables for the third straight game. And despite saying, “I didn’t play that great tonight,” the quarterback posted a 90.8 passer rating and did not throw an interception.
Mark it down as another win sealed by a clutch Jay Cutler drive when the Bears needed it most — the kind of drive that earns somebody big money in a contract year.
“The guys being at our best when our best was needed, that was one of those times certainly,” Trestman said.
Yes, Cutler at his best in the fourth quarter. Three weeks in a row.
Adam Hoge covers the Bears for CBSChicago.com and is a frequent contributor to 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter at @AdamHoge.