When the Bengals opened the second half of Sunday's season opener with an 80-yard touchdown drive to extend their lead to 21-10, things looked bleak for the Bears.
In the first half, the Chicago defense had yielded TD drives of 97 and 91 yards, while the offense had mustered 97 total yards and failed to pick up a first down on five of seven possessions.
But the game changed dramatically on both sides of the ball as the Bears rallied for a 24-21 victory before 60,182 at Soldier Field, giving Marc Trestman a memorable win in his first game as coach.
"I'll start out by really thanking our fans for really amping it up in the second half and helping our football team," Trestman said. "It was a great win for the City of Chicago and the Chicago Bears.
"It was a very good team win. We knew it was going to be a 60-minute game. I think it tested us and our backbone because it didn't go the way we wanted it to go certainly in the first half. But the guys hung in there, they got together. At halftime they pulled themselves together. The team went out and played every play, and we were able to come out on top."
After being outgained 325-97 over the first two and a half quarters, the Bears dominated the final period and a half, outgaining Cincinnati 226-15 to win their fourth straight season opener.
Matt Forte capped a nine-play, 80-yard drive with a 1-yard TD run to draw the Bears to within 21-17 with 3:22 left in the third quarter. The drive was sustained by Jay Cutler's 30-yard pass to Martellus Bennett on third-and-seven, a play the quarterback made after escaping the pocket.
The Bengals reached the Chicago 27 early in the fourth quarter before Tim Jennings stripped receiver Mohamed Sanu after a 10-yard reception and recovered the fumble at the Chicago 19.
The Bears converted their third takeaway of the game into the winning points as Cutler rifled a 19-yard pass to Brandon Marshall in the left corner of the end zone with 7:58 to play. The score came one play after Forte had dashed around right end for eight yards on fourth-and-one.
"Things started clicking a little bit," Cutler said. "We weren't really happy early on. Our tempo was a little off kilter. It was just a matter of us just keep calling plays, stay confident in what we were doing. The offensive line I thought played a great game all four quarters. We knew we weren't going to be perfect on offense today, but we didn't have to be. We just had to be good enough to win a four-quarter game and that's what we did."
Shea McClellin registered the game's only sack on the next play from scrimmage and the Bengals were forced to punt without picking up a first down. The Bears then killed the final 6:38 off the clock to secure the victory by converting three straight third down plays. The Bengals were powerless to stop the clock after calling their third and final timeout with 8:06 left in the game.
"It's hard in the NFL to burn out the clock in the last four or five minutes running the ball and that's what we did," Cutler said.
Cutler completed 21 of 33 passes for 242 yards with two touchdowns, one interception and a 93.2 passer rating. Marshall caught eight passes for 104 yards and 1 TD, while Alshon Jeffery added five receptions for 42 yards. Forte was limited to 50 yards on 19 carries.
Pro Bowl receiver A.J. Green was nearly unstoppable for the Bengals. He caught TD passes of 2 and 45 yards and set up Cincinnati's third and final TD by drawing a pass interference penalty against Charles Tillman in the end zone. Green finished with nine receptions for 162 yards.
Tillman intercepted two Andy Dalton passes in the first half, marking the second time the Pro Bowl cornerback has had two picks in a game in his career and the first time both came in one half.
After Tillman's first interception at the Cincinnati 36, Cutler connected with Bennett for an 8-yard TD pass in the back of the end zone, giving the Bears a 7-0 lead. The drive was sustained by Cutler's 18-yard pass over the middle to Marshall on third-and-17.
Green then beat Tillman down the right sideline for a 42-yard gain and followed two plays later by slipping away from Tillman for a 2-yard TD to tie the score 7-7 late in the first quarter. Green burned Jennings for a 45-yard TD down the right sideline to make it 14-7 with 2:53 left in the half.
The Bears cut the deficit to 14-10 with :11 to play in the half on Robbie Gould's 58-yard field goal, the longest in the franchise's 94-year history.