Struggling Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler rose to the occasion to outduel veteran gunslinger Brett Favre in a thrilling 36-30 overtime victory over the Minnesota Vikings on Monday.
Cutler, who has underperformed since being acquired from the Denver Broncos in the off-season, lobbed a 39-yard touchdown pass to Devin Aromashodu with 9:15 left in the extra session to hand the Bears their biggest win of their season.
He produced three other touchdowns and threw for 273 yards as the Bears survived the Vikings’ second-half fightback and dented their hopes of a first-round bye in the playoffs.
“I’ve known Brett a long time. He’s a good competitor and any game against him it’s always going to be fun because he’s going to battle,” Cutler told reporters after flourishing despite his league-leading 26 interceptions this year.
Forty-year-old Favre finished with 321 yards and sparked the Vikings to 17 unanswered points in the second half, feeding a six-yard touchdown pass to Sidney Rice with 16 seconds left in regulation to tie the scores.
Minnesota rusher Adrian Peterson, whose fumble in overtime positioned the Bears at Minnesota’s 39 for the eventual game-winning score, punched in a one-yard score to tie the game with 5:49 to go in the fourth.
Cutler responded just 54 seconds later, connecting with Earl Bennett on a 20-yard touchdown as Chicago (6-9) went up 30-23.
Having already clinched the NFC North, the Vikings (11-4) would have earned a first-round bye with a win but instead crashed to their third loss in four games.
The defeat also clinched home-field advantage for the New Orleans Saints throughout the NFC playoffs.
One week after Minnesota coach Brad Childress attempted to pull Favre during the third quarter of a defeat to the Carolina Panthers, leading to a heated discussion that captured headlines, the Vikings appear to have other worries.
The team is far from playing their best football and Peterson has not gained 100 yards rushing in six straight games, the longest drought of his career.
With a stale offensive start, Minnesota fell behind 16-0 in the first half before battling back to take the game into overtime.
“We have to play better than we did tonight or the last few weeks or we’ll be home pretty quickly,” Favre said. “I would love to say that we’re peaking right now but it would be difficult to say that. I’m very disappointed by I tip my hat to Jay.”