CHICAGO - Jay Cutler wasn't quite sure what to expect in a new offense.
One thing he didn't anticipate was perfection from the start, and the Chicago Bears came nowhere close to that. They did, however, find their rhythm just in time to make Marc Trestman a winner in his debut.
Cutler passed to Brandon Marshall for the go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter, helping the Bears rally for a 24-21 victory over the sloppy Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday and giving Trestman a victory in his first game as an NFL head coach.
It wasn't quite the display the Bears were looking for after making some big changes in the offseason. But they made the most of a handful of big plays by Cutler and repeated mistakes by the Bengals.
"I thought no one got frustrated early on with us and the way we were playing," Cutler said. "We stuck to the game plan. The fourth quarter -- that's when you've got to win ballgames in this league."
Cutler threw for 242 yards behind a line with four new starters. Marshall had eight grabs for 104 yards, and the offense pulled it out after struggling most of the way.
Cincinnati's Andy Dalton threw for 282 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. A.J. Green had 162 yards receiving and two touchdowns, including a 45-yarder. But it was a disappointing opener for a team coming off back-to-back playoff appearances for the first time since 1981 and 1982.
The Bengals led by 11 in the third quarter and were up 21-17 early in the fourth when Tim Jennings jarred the ball from Mohamed Sanu following a reception and made the recovery.
Chicago took over at its 19 and got an 8-yard run from Matt Forte on fourth-and-inches at the Bengals 27 to keep the drive going. Cutler then found Marshall in the front corner of the end zone for a 19-yard touchdown with 7:58 remaining, and Chicago hung on after a personal foul by Rey Maualuga with just over a minute left wiped out any chance of a comeback for Cincinnati.
Here are five reasons the Bears beat the Bengals.
1. STRONG FINISH: The Bears made big changes in the offseason, parting with star linebacker Brian Urlacher and hiring Trestman to replace the fired Lovie Smith with the idea that he could spark the offense and lead them to the playoffs after missing out five of the past six years.
Clearly, there's work to do. The offense seemed stuck most of the afternoon but came through in the end, with Cutler completing 21 of 33 passes. He also had two touchdowns to go with an interception.
"There were a lot of question marks," Cutler said. "How were we going to do on offense? Are the plays going to work? Are we going to be able to block them? Am I going to complete balls? So to go out there, it wasn't pretty, it wasn't perfect, we didn't think it was going to be. We made plays when we had to make plays."
There still are plenty of unanswered questions, none bigger than this: Can Trestman get the most out of Cutler?
2. KEEPING THEIR COOL: One positive sign for the Bears was that they kept their composure on offense, even after they fell behind 21-10 in the third.
They got within four on Matt Forte's 1-yard TD run late in the third, and took advantage of a big break after Cutler got intercepted by Vontaze Burfict near midfield early in the fourth.
Cincinnati took over at the Bears 40, but Sanu's fumble at the 17 led to a big swing. And Marshall couldn't believe he was 1-on-1 with Reggie Nelson on the go-ahead touchdown.
"I didn't understand it. You know?" Marshall said. "Fourth quarter, put a safety on me 1-on-1? You can only ask for that and dream about that."
3. LOSING COMPOSURE: Clearly, Bengals coach Marvin Lewis wasn't thrilled with his team's demeanor. They'd already committed their share of mistakes and silly penalties. Then, Maualuga got called for a personal foul away from the play when Cincinnati stopped Michael Bush after a short gain on third-and-6 at the Bengals 45 with a little over a minute left.
The unnecessary roughness penalty that kept the drive going and allowed Cutler to take a knee twice, ending the game.
"We had a lot of guys unfortunately lose composure today," Lewis said. "We can't do that."
4. LINED UP AND READY TO PROTECT: Get this. Cutler did not get sacked. The revamped offensive line with four new starters and a pair rookies on the right side in guard Kyle Long and tackle Jordan Mills held its ground against one of the top defensive fronts.
5. A SECONDARY ISSUE: One of the big question marks facing the Bengals was their secondary. It still is. They held their own early, but struggled to stay with the receivers, particularly when Cutler was scrambling down the stretch.