By DAN WIEDERER
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Bears left tackle Jermon Bushrod had his hands full trying to prevent Jets linebacker Jason Babin from enveloping Jay Cutler. Across the way, right tackle Jordan Mills was in a similar tussle with Calvin Pace.
It was third-and-goal early in the first quarter and Cutler and the Bears were pushing to capitalize on a special teams takeaway. And while the Jets brought significant pressure to disrupt Cutler's rhythm, the Bears quarterback shuffled left, then darted back right before throwing a leaping laser into the back of the end zone. Between two Jets defensive backs.
Touchdown Martellus Bennett.
"That's Jay making things happen," Bears guard Kyle Long said. "Trained sniper, man. Just putting the ball on the money."
Added Bushrod: "Jay has done a fantastic job with his pocket awareness. He's stepping up and moving around when needed. He knows it's not going to be pretty all the time. But we still have to find a way to make plays."
It was that kind of claw-it-out night for the Bears in a 27-19 victory at MetLife Stadium, a game in which they seized enough opportunities to steal a key road win. The triumph wasn't official until Geno Smith's fourth-down pass with 1:04 left was caught by Jets receiver Jeremy Kerley a yard beyond the end zone. Survival skill in the NFL translates to success. But that final exhale felt relieving nonetheless, the Bears fully aware that grinding wins like these are necessary in every playoff push.
And sure, the degree of difficulty on that 7-yard scoring strike from Cutler to Bennett proved higher than the Bears would've liked. But the result stamped an exclamation point on a short-field 40-yard touchdown drive that began after safety Ahmad Dixon recovered a muffed punt by Jets returner Jalen Saunders.
"That's how you stack success in this league," Bushrod said. "When you've got chances in front of you, you need to capitalize."
In the game's opening minute, safety Ryan Mundy pounced on a wayward Smith screen pass and picked it off, racing 45 yards to the end zone to give the Bears a lead they'd hold for the final 59 minutes, 28 seconds.
"It really seemed like he threw it right to me," Mundy said. "So you've just got to catch it and run. And that's what I did."
It's one thing to be presented gifts like those the Jets offered. It's another thing to cash them in. Late in the first half, the officials offered a break, ruling a fumbling Cutler down on a David Harris sack and blowing the play dead. So even when a replay review awarded the Jets the recovery of Cutler's obvious fumble, the blown whistles still wiped away what would have been a 46-yard Demario Davis fumble return touchdown.
To take advantage, the Bears defense delivered a clutch three-and-out effort to preserve a 17-13 lead heading into halftime.
Throughout the night, big plays came from big breaks.
Smith's third-quarter throw toward David Nelson in the end zone found Bears cornerback Kyle Fuller instead, another timely takeaway. And on the ensuing possession, a fluttering deep ball by Cutler appeared to be another turnover. Until Jets cornerback Antonio Allen dropped it.
Three times Monday, the Bears defense stiffened inside the red zone, holding the Jets to two field goals plus the win-sealing stop. And earlier, after Nick Folk added his fourth field goal, a 42-yarder with 9:52 left to cut the lead to 24-19, the Bears responded with a 12-play, 46-yard field goal drive. The most impressive play on that series was a 13-yard Cutler completion to Alshon Jeffery on third-and-9 from the Bears' 42. The Jets came with an all-out blitz and still Cutler calmly located Jeffery in a post-up situation over the middle against Allen.
The Bears ran six more plays and milked an additional 4:32 off the clock before Robbie Gould helped seal the victory with a 45-yard field goal.