CHICAGO — Never mind the recent drama. Rex Ryan and the Jets are headed back to the playoffs, and they’re not complaining even if they got in with a loss.
Jay Cutler threw three touchdown passes, Matt Forte ran for 113 yards and the Chicago Bears beat New York 38-34 on Sunday, sending the Jets to their third loss in four games. Chris Harris intercepted Mark Sanchez on a pass intended for Santonio Holmes with about a minute left to end New York’s comeback bid, but the Jets’ season won’t be ending next week.
The Jets (10-5) clinched their second straight postseason trip under Ryan when Jacksonville lost 20-17 in overtime to Washington. There was a loud roar from the coaches’ locker room when the Jaguars lost, and Ryan stopped himself as he addressed the media.
“By the way, I think we’re in the playoffs,” he said. “Not the way I wanted it, but I’ll take it.”
LaDainian Tomlinson said Graham Gano’s winning field goal for the Redskins was “like Christmas.”
They’ll have an extra night in Chicago to savor it after a snowstorm delayed their return to New York, and the Bears (11-4) might let this one soak in a bit, too.
They won for the seventh time in eight games after blowing an early 10-point lead and are in good position to lock up a bye. The Bears needed a win, coupled with a loss by Philadelphia and a loss or tie by the Giants. The Eagles won’t play until Tuesday after their game against Minnesota got pushed back by snow.
Cutler completed 13 of 25 passes for 215 yards, with Johnny Knox catching four for 92 with two touchdowns, the second coming when he beat Antonio Cromartie on a 26-yarder that broke a 31-31 tie in the third quarter. He also caught a 40-yarder early in the third after a failed fake punt by New York.
“We came into it knowing we were going to have to take a few shots, go vertical on them,” Cutler said. “We knew with our speed it would be hard for them to keep up.”
Forte had a big game and, assuming those numbers stand, is the first opponent to run for 100 or more yards against the Jets this season. Pittsburgh’s Rashard Mendenhall had a yard deducted after initially being credited with 100 last week.
Sanchez seemed to be just fine after playing most of last week’s win over Pittsburgh with a shoulder injury. He threw for 269 yards and a touchdown, completing 24 of 37 passes after a sizzling start, but his interception sealed the win for Chicago and capped another wild week for New York that included more headline-grabbing distractions.
At the center of it was Ryan, who was the subject of an embarrassing foot-fetish report by Deadspin featuring videos of a woman — who bears a close resemblance to Ryan’s wife, Michelle — displaying her toes to an off-screen cameraman who sounds a lot like the coach. Ryan had little to say about the report, repeatedly calling it “a personal matter.” The week then ended on a somewhat sour note, with the Jets getting outplayed in the second half.
“To lose the game and I still make the playoffs, that’s the best news you can ever have after a loss,” said Sanchez, who will likely sit out next week’s game against Buffalo.
Sanchez completed 13 of 15 passes for 156 yards in the first half, and the Jets led 24-17, but the momentum turned in a big way after halftime.
A fake punt by New York on the opening drive of the third quarter failed as Sanchez’s pass to Brad Smith fell incomplete and things only got worse from there.
Cutler tied it on the next play when he hit Knox in the end zone with a 40-yard touchdown, and in a flash, the Bears were leading thanks to two big plays by Devin Hester.
He returned a punt 38 yards to the New York 32, putting a neat juke on James Ihedigbo as he turned up the right side that caused his leg to give way and left him with a knee injury.
Then, Hester beat Drew Coleman and caught a 25-yard TD pass from Cutler along the left side that gave the Bears a short-lived 31-24 lead.
“That was disappointing to say the least,” Ryan said. “I understand you get a play or two, but we’re going in there trying to kick away from that guy. We tried to do that all day and he got his hands on it and that’s why you see how important it is to kick a way from that kid. He is the best returner in the game.”
New York immediately tied it on a 23-yard pass from Sanchez to Holmes, but Knox put Chicago ahead for good when he beat Cromartie for that 26-yarder with about 6 minutes left in the quarter.
“We talk a lot about finishing. That’s definitely what we did,” coach Lovie Smith said.
As for the Jets?
“I’m a huge Redskin fan, I can tell you that right now,” Ryan said.
NOTES: Ryan said Ihedigbo, along with Sanchez, will likely sit out next week against Buffalo. … S Eric Smith sat out his second straight game because of a concussion. … The Bears had all their key players available, with LB Pisa Tinoisamoa active after missing the past three games because of a knee injury.