CHICAGO (AP) — Jay Cutler's halftime speech — yup, that Jay Cutler — helped the Chicago Bears turn a strong start into one surprising victory.
Cutler threw for 252 yards and a touchdown after missing five games with a thumb injury, rookie Jordan Howard ran for a career-high 153 yards and a TD, and the Bears beat the Minnesota Vikings 20-10 on Monday night.
Chicago (2-6) sacked Sam Bradford five times while handing NFC North-leading Minnesota (5-2) its second straight loss.
Cutler was on target in his return from a sprained right thumb, and Howard easily surpassed his previous high of 118 yards. Alshon Jeffery got his first touchdown reception of the season while helping Chicago outgain Minnesota 403 yards to 258.
"I think it was more fun just to watch my teammates and see how hard they played and how well they played," Cutler said. "One win coming into this one, they had a lot of outside noise."
Cutler has faced criticism for his body language and leadership skills throughout his time in Chicago, but Jeffery said the quarterback told his teammates to "keep our pedal to the metal" at halftime.
"Everyone in there is from different backgrounds and different cultures, societies," Cutler said. "Whatever it takes to find the inspiration — because motivation usually wears off at some point during the game. Those guys played inspired football."
Minnesota's performance was far from inspired.
"We're a good team," guard Brandon Fusco said. "It's not us. It's not Viking football. That's what is frustrating, we're such a good team. What we're putting out on the field is not us. We have to watch the film and get better from this."
Cutler had not played since he left the second game of the season against Philadelphia. But with his future up in the air after coach John Fox wavered in his commitment to him as the starter, he made a triumphant return.
Cutler completed 20 of 31 passes, including an 11-yard touchdown to Jeffery early in the third that made it 20-3. Whether he quieted fans who thought the Bears were better off with Brian Hoyer is another issue. But that became a moot point when Hoyer broke his left arm last week in a Thursday night loss at Green Bay.
Howard had a 69-yard run, the longest for Chicago in seven years. Zach Miller added 88 yards receiving as the Bears stopped a three-game losing streak.
Bradford, playing behind a porous line, had another rough game after getting sacked six times the previous week against Philadelphia. He was 23 of 37 for 228 yards.
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Matt Asiata ran for 42 yards with Jerick McKinnon sidelined by an ankle injury.
With a sparse and quiet crowd looking on, the Bears led 13-3 at halftime. It was almost a bigger advantage, but Chicago settled for field goals on its first two trips inside the 20.
Howard, a fifth-round draft pick, broke off a 69-yard run to the 13 on Chicago's first possession. It was the longest rushing play for the Bears since Kahlil Bell's 72-yarder against Philadelphia on Nov. 22, 2009. But instead of a touchdown, the Bears got a field goal from Connor Barth.
Fox denied a report of discord between the coaching staff and front office and that the organization has brought in an outside consultant to examine the football operation.
"There's no truth to that. This is as unified of an organization and football team as I've ever been associated with," Fox said.
Head linesman Ed Walker was taken from the field on a cart after he slipped on the Soldier Field grass in the first quarter. Walker was injured running down the Vikings' sideline as the Bears punted. His legs buckled, and he was tended to for several minutes by medical personnel before being placed on the cart.
Vikings: G Alex Boone was being evaluated for a concussion. ... CB Captain Munnerlyn hurt his foot. ... SS Andrew Sendejo (ankle) sat out and Jayron Kearse started in his place.
Bears: The Bears held out RG Kyle Long (strained triceps) and LG Josh Sitton (ankle). Ted Larsen started at right guard and Eric Kush at left guard.
Vikings: Face division rival Detroit for the first time this season when they host the Lions on Sunday.
Bears: Have a bye before visiting Tampa Bay on Nov. 13.