Chicago Bears wide receiver Earl Bennett (80) celebrates his touchdown against the St. Louis Rams with teammate Johnny Knox during the second half of an NFL football game in Chicago, Sunday, Dec. 6, 2009. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green) By M. Spencer Green
St. Louis Rams quarterback Kyle Boller (12) is sacked by Chicago Bears defensive end Adewale Ogunleye (93) during the first half of an NFL football game in Chicago, Sunday, Dec. 6, 2009. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh) By Nam Y. Huh
Chicago Bears' Devin Hester (23) leaves the field after an injury during the third quarter of an NFL football game against the St. Louis Rams in Chicago, Sunday, Dec. 6, 2009. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh) By Nam Y. Huh
ST. LOUIS (AP) -- Jay Cutler and the Chicago Bears looked like they were headed to an easy win. Instead, they had to hang on to beat lowly St. Louis.
Cutler fizzled 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.
Cutler threw 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.
On Sunday, Jackson was as effective as usual for the Rams even though he was questionable with a sore back, but he had little help.
Kyle Boller threw for just 113 yards and got sacked three times.
Cutler, the league leader with 20 interceptions, was 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 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.
He hit Hester with a 48-yard pass that set up a 1-yard touchdown run by Matt Forte and connected with Earl 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.
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.
Josh 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.
(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)