Chicago, IL (Sports Network) – Jay Cutler’s touchdown pass to Johnny Knox late in the third quarter was the go-ahead score, and a Chris Harris interception in the final minute provided the punctuation as Chicago outlasted the New York Jets, 38-34, at Soldier Field.
Mark Sanchez struck for 269 yards, one score and that costly late interception on 24-of-37 passing for the Jets (10-5), who despite the loss locked up a playoff berth. That’s because Jacksonville lost at home in overtime to Washington.
"That’s not the way I wanted it, but I’ll take it," Jets head coach Rex Ryan said about his club’s back-door clinch.
Shonn Greene and LaDainian Tomlinson each scored on the ground, Dustin Keller led the way with 79 yards on seven grabs and Santonio Holmes added a TD catch in defeat.
Cutler finished just 13-of-25, but passed for three TDs and 215 yards while also rushing for a score for the Bears (11-4), who reeled off their seventh win in eight games.
"We came into it knowing we were going to have to take a few shots, go vertical on them," Cutler said. "We knew with our speed it would be hard for them to keep up."
Matt Forte racked up 113 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries, Knox posted 92 yards and two scores on four receptions and Devin Hester also recorded a TD catch for Chicago. The NFC North champions can clinch a first-round bye in the playoffs if the Eagles lose at home to Minnesota on Tuesday.
Chicago snapped the final tie of the game, taking a 38-31 lead with 6:06 to play in the third when Cutler hit Knox for a 26-yard score. On the ensuing New York series, Holmes narrowly missed a diving TD catch and the Jets had to settle for a 34-yard make from Nick Folk on the second play of the fourth for a 38-34 game.
Robbie Gould missed a 35-yard attempt with 11:26 remaining, then the Jets were forced to punt despite reaching Chicago’s side of the field on their next drive.
The Bears took over on their own 10 with 5:33 remaining but went three-and- out, and a booming punt left New York at its own 40 with 4:32 to go. The Jets also failed to move the ball and pinned Chicago at its own five with just over three minutes to play.
Forte picked up one first down but the Bears were again forced to punt, and the Jets had 63 seconds with no timeouts to move 72 yards. A defensive offside call made it 1st-and-5 but Harris stepped in front of the Sanchez pass at the Chicago 41.
"We talk a lot about finishing. That’s definitely what we did," Bears head coach Lovie Smith said. "We knew that we were playing a team that was gonna give us a lot of pressure. Our receivers did a great job and the offensive line was great, having to get our running game in gear at this point of the season."
Cutler took a knee twice to wrap up the game.
"To lose the game and still make the playoffs, that’s the best news you can have after a loss," Sanchez mused.
Gould’s wounded-duck 37-yard field goal capped the opening drive of the contest.
Holmes then fumbled on a 1st-and-10 from his own 38, and Chris Harris picked up the loose ball on the Jets’ 45. Four plays later Forte broke several tackles up the middle on a 22-yard TD scamper.
The Jets cut their deficit to 10-7 on the first play of the second as Greene scored from the three, then moved ahead 14-10 when Dwight Lowery picked off Cutler and raced 20 yards to the end zone.
New York took over at the Chicago 36 just before the midway point of the period, and Tomlinson finished off that brief drive with a three-yard score which gave the Jets an 11-point bulge.
However, Cutler rolled in from the two to complete the following series and the Bears were within 21-17 with 2:44 left before halftime.
Folk connected from 26 yards out with 12 seconds left and it was a seven-point game at the break.
After holding the Jets during a 4th-and-3 from their own 40 on their opening series of the second half, Cutler hit Knox on the next play for a 40-yard TD to tie the game 24-all.
Hester’s 38-yard punt return to the Jets’ 32 set up his own 25-yard touchdown reception, but the visitors responded immediately on a 23-yard Sanchez-to- Holmes strike for a 31-31 deadlock.