CLEVELAND -- The Chicago Bears clawed their way into first place in the NFC North on Sunday and Jay Cutler answered critics who thought the starting quarterback job was better left in the hands of backup Josh McCown.
Cutler threw two touchdown passes in the fourth quarter and the Chicago Bears scored 21 unanswered points to complete a 38-31 come-from-behind victory over the Cleveland Browns.
The Bears (8-6) claimed first place in the division but the Detroit Lions (7-6) host the Baltimore Ravens on Monday night. Detroit won both games against the Bears this season and at 8-6 would leapfrog Chicago via tiebreaker.
"I thought our team showed tremendous resiliency today," Bears coach Marc Trestman said. "There was a lot of adversity throughout the game. They embraced it and moved on to the next play."
The Browns (4-10) lost for the fifth straight. They led 24-17 to start the fourth quarter and had the Bears pinned at the Chicago 5.
Cutler, in his first start since Nov. 10, returned from a high-ankle sprain and shook off some rust that led to overthrown passes and an interception return for a touchdown. Cutler was 22 of 31 for 265 yards with three touchdowns and two picks.
Cutler led a 95-yard drive in six plays and capped it off with a 45-yard touchdown pass to Alshon Jeffrey with 10:59 to play.
"We always talk about just throwing it up and giving me a chance," Jeffery said of his third highlight-reel grab in as many weeks. "I just try to make the best of the opportunity."
The Bears took the lead, 31-24, on a 4-yard touchdown pass to slot wide receiver Earl Bennett. Backup running back Michael Bush finished off the Bears' 21-point fourth quarter with a 40-yard touchdown run.
"We didn't make the plays defensively to keep them out of the end zone," Browns inside linebacker D'Qwell Jackson said. "We have to find a way to finish these games."
Cutler drove the Bears downfield on the opening drive but came away with no points when his pass in the end zone was tipped by strong safety T.J. Ward and intercepted by free safety Tashaun Gipson.
Gipson returned the ball 35 yards to the Browns 27. The big play in the drive resulting in a 35-yard field goal by Billy Cundiff was a short pass to Greg Little that he turned upfield into a 44-yard gain to the Bears 19.
Gipson picked off Cutler again in the second quarter on a pass that glanced off the hands of wide receiver Brandon Marshall. Gipson returned the ball 44 yards for a touchdown.
"It's frustrating because the outcomes aren't there," Browns coach Rob Chudzinski said. "The guys want to win so badly. It's a matter of doing a better job at key points of the game
What the Bears said
"Obviously there are things we need to do better, but after the game that isn't what everyone is talking about." -- Cornerback Zachary Bowman, who had two interceptions
What the Browns said
"As a kid, you dream about playing on Sundays. It was a dream come true." -- Running back Edwin Baker after scoring a touchdown in his first NFL game
What we learned about the Bears:
1. Bears coach Marc Trestman is a man of his word. He said he would switch to Jay Cutler at quarterback when Cutler got healthy and he did, even though Josh McCown led eight straight scoring drives last week. Cutler threw two interceptions against the Browns and seemingly lost the strike zone on a few possessions into a brisk wind, but also threw three touchdown passes -- two in the fourth quarter. Cutler was fearless throwing the ball into coverage, especially to wide receiver Brandon Marshall.
2. Running back Matt Forte is relentless. The Browns hadn't allowed a 100-yard rusher this year, but Forte ended that streak with 127 yards rushing, his third consecutive game over 100. He had only 44 yards rushing at halftime and followed that with 93 yards in the second half when the Bears scored 28 points.
What we learned about the Browns
1. The Browns have struggled to run the ball all season, but they might have found a gem in Edwin Baker, whom they signed off the Bears practice squad on Tuesday. He rushed eight times for 38 yards and caught four passes for 46 yards. He showed a quick burst and wasn't overwhelmed by snaps in a tight game.
2. Opponents are starting to find cracks in the Browns defense. It was much easier to do in the fourth quarter for the Bears when left cornerback Joe Haden left the game. One week after the Patriots had 484 yards of offense, the Bears totaled 440 yards of offense on the defense that ranked seventh in the league at the start of the day. The Browns had the lead in the fourth quarter for the third straight game and lost it each time.