(AP) — Of course the defense made the plays that mattered most for Chicago. These are, after all, the Bears.
Charles Tillman returned an interception 10 yards for a score and Zack Bowman returned a fumble 1 yard for another TD in the Bears’ 28-13 victory over the punchless Cardinals on Sunday to keep Chicago’s playoff hopes alive.
It was the third pick Tillman has brought back for a touchdown this season and the eighth overall by Chicago, one shy of the NFL record. Julius Peppers had three of the Bears’ four sacks.
“Defensively we asked them to take over and play the way they have been capable of doing,” Chicago coach Lovie Smith said. “Of course, how we played early, taking the ball away specifically, is what I am talking about. It was an added bonus getting a couple of scores.”
Brandon Marshall caught six passes for 68 yards and a TD, breaking the Bears’ franchise record for yards receiving in a season in the process.
Chicago (9-6) snapped a three-game losing streak and won for just the second time in seven tries. The Cardinals (5-10) lost for the 10th time in 11 games.
To make the postseason as a wild card, the Bears must win at Detroit in their regular-season finale next Sunday, then have Minnesota lose to Green Bay.
“I can’t even state how big this is. It is either win or you are done,” Peppers said. “We can’t control what happens next week with other teams, but if we don’t win today, we don’t have a shot.”
Matt Forte gained 88 yards in 12 carries, including a 4-yard TD run for Chicago before aggravating a right ankle injury and leaving early in the second half.
Jay Cutler completed just one of his first 11 passes, then went 5 of 5 on a touchdown drive in the final minutes of the first half. He finished 12 of 26 for 146 yards and a touchdown.
The Cardinals, with the NFL’s worst offense, continued to search for someone to move the ball.
After he threw the interception to Tillman that put Chicago up 28-6 on Arizona’s first offensive series after halftime, rookie Ryan Lindley was benched in favor of Brian Hoyer, claimed off waivers from Pittsburgh 13 days earlier.
“It’s obviously not ideal, but football is football,'” said Hoyer, who spent three seasons as a backup in New England. “You just want to go out and play the best you can and definitely improve off of this and just try to make the most of the opportunity.”
Hoyer completed 11 of 19 passes for 105 yards and one interception. Kelvin Hayden picked off his pass late in the game and returned it 39 yards to the Arizona 10.
But Adrian Wilson, the 12-year NFL veteran who might have been playing his last home game for the Cardinals, blocked Olindo Mare’s 20-yard field goal try and Justin Bethel returned it 82 yards with 1:46 to play for the Cardinals’ lone TD.
Arizona’s Larry Fitzgerald caught eight passes for 111 yards, just his second 100-yard receiving game of the season. The first was in Week 3 against Philadelphia when the Cardinals were headed to a 4-0 start.
“It’s been a long season, man,” Fitzgerald said. “Whenever I can make a play and make an impact, I try to do it. Today some things opened up. We were able to make some plays. But it didn’t equate to a win, so it’s all for nothing.”
Marshall made a diving grab of Cutler’s long pass at the Arizona 14 early in the game, but Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt, whose own job status is uncertain, threw the challenge flag. After the video review, the pass was ruled incomplete.
No matter, the Bears scored a moment later anyway.
Chicago pinned the Cardinals deep and, on second-and-11 from the 3, Beanie Wells’ right knee gave way and he dropped the ball as he went backside first to the ground. Bowman grabbed it and skidded over the goal line for the first touchdown for the Bears’ defense since Nov. 4.
Jay Feely’s 49-yard field goal cut it to 7-3.
But Forte rambled 36 yards on the final play of the first quarter and Cutler threw 30 yards to Marshall to the Arizona 4 — the quarterback’s first completion of the game in seven throws. Forte carried it in from there and Chicago led 14-3.
Chicago gave Arizona another chance when Dave Zastudil’s punt careened off the Bears’ D.J. Moore. The Cardinals recovered at the 36, leading to Feely’s 35-yard field goal that cut the lead to 14-6.
With no timeouts and after completing just one of his first 11 passes, Cutler went 5-for-5, capped by an 11-yarder to a wide-open Marshall with 19 seconds left in the half.
“We were really struggling and got into a two-minute situation and guys were still working to get open,” Cutler said. “They made some great catches for me. It wasn’t the best game. It wasn’t the prettiest game, but we got done what we needed to get done.”