The California surfer dude gave a totally together performance Sunday in his first start for the Bears, throwing three TD passes to spark a 24-14 win over the Minnesota Vikings.
“This was just sweet, coming here after not playing two months ago,” Hutchinson said.
Hutchinson was surfing when the Bears (5-7) called him in September following a season-ending knee injury to Rex Grossman. Since then he’s spent most of time as a third-stringer, working with the scout team.
The former St. Louis Cardinals pitcher, who started nine games as a rookie for the Cowboys two years ago and also played in NFL Europe, showed an ability Craig Krenzel and Jonathan Quinn lacked as fill-ins for Grossman. And he gave a previously moribund Bears offense that had just one TD in the previous three games a spark. Hutchinson completed 18-of-30 for 213 yards.
“The best quarterbacks in the league are guys that have experience. NFL Europe helped me a lot. My rookie year helped me a lot,” Hutchinson said.
“It would have been hard to convince him that he wasn’t going to play good today,” Bears coach Lovie Smith said. “He had a `look’ about him all week.”
The only look the Vikings (7-5) had was one of disappointment after losing a late-season game to the Bears for the second straight December.
Daunte Culpepper, completing 70 percent of his passes entering the game, was intercepted three times—he had only seven all season before Sunday—and the Vikings were held scoreless in the second half.
“It was definitely shocking to me,” Culpepper said of his three turnovers. “I keep on going over it in my head, but that’s how this game goes sometimes.”
Culpepper, sacked five times, was 23-of-33 for 279 yards.
“They had a game plan to put a lot of pressure on me and that’s what they did,” Culpepper added.
Chicago’s defense got a lift by the return of middle linebacker Brian Urlacher, who’d missed the two previous games with a calf injury.
The Bears made a tough defensive stand in the third quarter after the Vikings had reached the 12 and were threatening to take the lead.
Then Hutchinson hit Bobby Wade for 12 yards and Desmond Clark for 19 to start a 13-play, 72-yard drive that also featured some tough inside running by Anthony Thomas, who had a 17-yard carry to the 3.
On third down, Hutchinson found Jason McKie in the corner for a 5-yard TD to make it 24-14 with a little more than 10 minutes left.
“He made some throws and some great plays out of the pocket in the first half. I thought we had him better contained in the second half, but we gave him some confidence, which we didn’t want to do,” Vikings coach Mike Tice said.
Azumah made his second interception with 2:01 left to stop a final Vikings drive.
The Bears took a 17-14 halftime lead when Hutchinson hit David Terrell with a 15-yard TD pass with 22 seconds to go in the second quarter, capping a two-minute, 76-yard drive.
Culpepper threw a 40-yard TD pass to former Bear Marcus Robinson with 2:23 left in the first half to give Minnesota a 14-10 lead.
Minutes earlier, Minnesota moved from its 27 to a first-and-goal at the Bears 4 before Urlacher stepped right in front of Culpepper’s pass and returned it 42 yards.
Azumah stopped a long Vikings drive on their first possession, intercepting Culpepper at the 11 and returning 52 yards to the Minnesota 37. Hutchinson then passed 19 yards to Justin Gage on third down before rolling out and flipping a 6-yard TD pass to Clark.
Culpepper hit Nate Burleson with a 4-yard toss to tie the game at 7.
^Notes: Randy Moss and Bears CB Charles Tillman got into a small wrestling match on the sideline after a play in the third quarter, but no penalties were called. After the game, reporters saw members of the Bears’ secondary standing in the end zone waving goodbye to Moss and other Vikings receivers as they exited the field. And Moss, who had just four catches, didn’t like it. Bears coach Lovie Smith said Moss called the Bears out before the game. “I just wanted to say bye to him. I didn’t say nothing,” Tillman said. “I couldn’t hear what he said. I wasn’t going to get in a fight.” Moss was not available for comment. … Vikings CB Antoine Winfield sprained his ankle.