CHICAGO — The way Jay Cutler started, the Chicago Bears looked as though they were headed to a lopsided win. Instead, they had to hang on to get by lowly St. Louis.
Even so, they’ll take this.
Cutler faded after a strong start, throwing for 143 yards and a touchdown without an interception, and the Bears beat the Rams 17-9 Sunday after dropping four straight and six of seven.
"It feels like it’s been a long time," he said. "It wasn’t the prettiest game but we pulled it out. Defensively I thought we did a great job."
Cutler was 4-for-7 for 131 yards in the first quarter as the Bears built a 10-0 lead. After that? Chicago went to the run, St. Louis rallied and Bears receiver Devin Hester left the game with a calf injury.
The Bears (5-7) gave up 112 yards rushing to Steven Jackson but kept the Rams (1-11) out of the end zone for the fourth time this season even though Pro Bowl linebacker Lance Briggs missed the game with a sprained left knee. They did just enough after allowing 537 yards the previous week in a 36-10 loss at Minnesota, with a late interception by Hunter Hillenmeyer — the second of his career — helping preserve the win.
No matter how uninspired it was, the Bears needed this.
Mired in one of their worst slumps in years, they’re staring at their third straight postseason miss since the 2006 team’s run to their Super Bowl. Coach Lovie Smith and general manager Jerry Angelo have come under heavy criticism along with Cutler, the man whose arrival sparked a surge of optimism.
There is little of that around Chicago, after everything fell apart following a 3-1 start. Things were particularly tense after last week’s game, when the Vikings rolled up the most yards by a Bears opponent in 27 years, but they had better luck against one of the league’s worst teams.
"I don’t want us to get used to losing; that’s the most important thing right now," Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo said, even though they’ve done little else. "I want us to be disappointed, not discouraged."
On Sunday, Jackson was as effective as usual for the Rams even though it took a "lot of prayer" and "guttiness" to get on the field after leaving last week’s game against Seattle because of back spasms.
"There is no shortcut to it," said Jackson, who missed several days of practice. "I knew coming into this game, leaving last week, I was going to face an eight- and nine-man box and I knew it was going to be a rough one. So just try to gut it out."
The problem was he had little help.
The Rams were 2-of-14 on third-down conversions, and Kyle Boller threw for just 113 yards and got sacked three times.
Cutler, the league leader with 20 interceptions, finished just 8-for-17 but kept the ball out of the opposition’s hands after getting picked off 15 times in the previous seven games. His 3-yard TD strike to Earl Bennett on third down with 1:23 left in the third made it 17-6, but Cutler did most of his damage in the opening quarter, connecting with Hester and Bennett for big gains.
"We haven’t really gotten to some of the deeper stuff as of late either so to see Devin and the others catch and go up the field was nice," said Cutler, who "dinged" his throwing hand but insisted he’s fine.
He hit Hester with a 48-yard pass that set up a 1-yard touchdown run by Matt Forte and connected with Bennett on a season-long 71-yarder that led to a field goal by Robbie Gould, but things got tense for the Bears after that.
A fake field goal at the 10 failed, with holder Brad Maynard shoveling to Greg Olsen for no gain, and Josh Brown responded by booting a 20-yarder with 1:14 left in the half to pull St. Louis within 10-3.
Hester limped off the field following a 4-yard loss on an end-around play early in the third quarter and headed to the locker room a few minutes later after being checked out on the sideline.
Brown booted a 48-yard field goal to pull St. Louis within 10-6 with 8:50 left in the third, but Cutler gave the Bears some room when he hit Bennett with that TD pass late in the period.
Forte ran for 91 yards on 24 carries, and the Bears pulled this one out after an eventful week that saw Smith acknowledge his job scrutiny and Brian Urlacher sound off in a Yahoo! Sports article. The injured linebacker took some shots at Cutler and Forte while questioning the direction of the organization, specifically what he saw as a switch from emphasizing the run and defense to the passing game.
"I think there were a few runs where maybe if I make somebody miss I could have some more yards," said Forte, who lost a fumble on the game’s second play from scrimmage. "I think I played OK today."
Bears LT Orlando Pace was inactive after injuring his groin and was not available to play against his former team, so Chris Williams moved from the right side to his more natural position. Kevin Shaffer started at right tackle. … With Briggs out, Jamar Williams started at weakside linebacker. … Rams S Oshiomogho Atogwe hurt his shoulder and will have an MRI.