Rex Ryan wasn't doubting the Bears' special teams when he called a fake punt on the opening possession of the second half at the Jets' 40-yard line. He was doing something far more understandable.
Ryan was avoiding kicking to Devin Hester while showing he had little fear of the Bears' offense if the play failed. After Rashied Davis broke up a pass to Brad Smith on the fake, Ryan probably wasn't the only one surprised when Jay Cutler hooked up with Johnny Knox for a 40-yard touchdown on the next play.
In Week 16, Mike Martz's offense finally showed some explosiveness, and it did so against a Jets defense that entered ranked fifth in the NFL. The Bears (11-4) scored four touchdowns of 20 yards or longer in a 38-34 victory Sunday at Soldier Field, taking a step closer to securing a first-round playoff bye.
The Bears close the regular season Sunday at Green Bay with the rival Packers (9-6) gunning for a wild-card berth. A Bears victory would ensure them of at least the No. 2 seed.
The typically plodding Bears had scored only six touchdowns from outside the red zone before Sunday and had only two in the previous nine games, including Knox's 67-yard touchdown Monday at Minnesota. They've talked about the offense being a work in progress, and suddenly a squirt gun has been replaced by something with real ammunition.
In a season with many unexpected discoveries, the Bears winning a shootout in late December on patchy home turf a week after scoring 40 points in the snow against the Vikings ranks right up there.
"We're coming together," right guard Roberto Garza said. "We've still got a long way to go. Still a work in progress, but we know what we can do."
After a week of dealing with controversy over foot-fetish videos that appeared to feature his wife, Michelle, Ryan now must live down a fake punt when his team led by a touchdown and seemingly enjoyed momentum. The Jets (10-5) backed into the playoffs when the Redskins toppled the Jaguars in overtime, helping Ryan move on from the bungled plot.
"What yard line were they on?" asked tight end Greg Olsen, who was surprised by the answer. "Glad they did it because next play we scored a touchdown."
Knox's touchdown was simple yet a beautiful example of what Martz is able to do in creating mismatches. Olsen was lined up wide right, and cornerback Darrelle Revis, the Jets' best cover man, slid out on him. That left Knox in man coverage inside against Dwight Lowery, and he simply ran past him.
Later in the third quarter, Cutler's back-shoulder throw to Devin Hester resulted in a 25-yard touchdown when Hester was matched up in man coverage against reserve cornerback Drew Coleman. Cutler made a perfect pass over Antonio Cromartie to hit Knox for a 26-yard touchdown as the Bears scored 21 in the quarter to take a 38-31 lead into the fourth.
"They're playing press coverage and we know we're going to have to take a few shots," said Cutler, who finished 13 of 25 for 215 yards. "With our speed, we knew that it would be hard for them to keep up, and when they're face-guarding like that, I'm going to put it right on them and let the receiver make a play. It's really hard to stop."
It was a complete effort as Matt Forte ran for 113 yards on 19 carries, becoming only the third back to top 100 yards against the Jets in the last 31 games. He scored on a 22-yard run in the first quarter.
When Lowery picked off a bad Cutler pass and returned it 20 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter, the Jets went ahead 14-10. LaDainian Tomlinson's 3-yard run made it 21-10, but the Bears were able to weather New York's 24-point outburst in the quarter.
Mark Sanchez completed 24 of 37 passes for 269 yards, including a 23-yard score to Santonio Holmes in the third quarter. But when the defense needed a stop, it forced New York to punt twice in the final 5:43, and Chris Harris made his team-leading fifth interception with 51 seconds left.
"We're getting more used to things that we need to do," Cutler said. "You can't come out in Week 1 and expect to be firing on all cylinders. We needed some experience, see how it looks and know how to react. Now, everything's starting to come together. It's fun out there."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun