EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The Chicago Bears took advantage of early mistakes by the sloppy New York Jets.
Then they had to hold their breath before hanging on for a 27-19 victory Monday night.
Jay Cutler threw two touchdown passes to Martellus Bennett and Ryan Mundy returned an interception 45 yards for a score. Cutler finished 23 of 38 for 225 yards and Alshon Jeffery caught eight passes for 105 yards for the Bears, who got a 45-yard field goal from Robbie Gould to make it an eight-point game with 3:10 remaining.
The Jets (1-2) had one last opportunity to tie, getting into Bears territory on Geno Smith’s 51-yard pass to Greg Salas. But Jeremy Kerley was out of bounds when he caught Smith’s desperation fourth-down heave from the Bears 9.
Cutler took a knee three times to seal the victory for the Bears (2-1).
“Right now I feel I’m very intelligent on the field,” said Bennett, now in his seventh NFL season. “The game is getting a lot easier. I know the offence better. I know what Jay wants.”
Smith was 26 of 43 for 316 yards and a touchdown with two interceptions — and nearly had a few others. Kerley finished with seven catches for 81 yards, and almost came up with a diving grab off a tipped pass in the end zone on the final drive.
“There were some plays you wish you could have back,” Jets coach Rex Ryan said.
The Jets lost wide receiver Eric Decker in the first half to a hamstring injury after he was questionable for the game with tightness in the hamstring.
The Bears went up 14-0 just over 5 minutes into the game.
On New York’s second play from scrimmage, Smith didn’t see Mundy lurking in the flat as he floated a screen pass to Chris Johnson. Mundy stepped in front of the toss and ran untouched into the end zone for a 45-yard score.
It was the sixth-year veteran’s third career interception, and first score.
After the Jets stopped the Bears on three plays on their first offensive series, rookie Jalen Saunders dropped Patrick O’Donnell’s punt at his 40 and it was recovered by Ahmad Dixon.
Cutler threw deep down the right sideline to Jeffery one play later, and cornerback Darrin Walls was called for pass interference to put the ball at the Jets 7.
Three plays later, Cutler rolled right and found Bennett in the back of the end zone to make it 14-0 — and get the MetLife Stadium crowd booing.
“There is a little lack of respect for me as a tight end,” Bennett said.
“It’s kind of like a chip on my shoulder. They never really mention me.”
The Jets got on the scoreboard on their next possession, capping an 11-play, 55-drive with Nick Folk’s 43-yard field goal.
Chicago answered with a 15-play, 79-yard drive helped by cornerback Antonio Allen’s holding penalty on a third-down incompletion by Cutler. Gould’s 24-yard field goal gave the Bears a 17-3 lead 66 seconds into the second quarter.
The Jets got their next series off to a good start with a 43-yard completion to rookie tight end Jace Amaro, but they stalled in the red zone again, settling for a 28-yard field goal.
New York got closer with a 77-yard drive on which Kerley accounted for 51 — including a 19-yard touchdown that cut the deficit 17-13.
A video review reversed a call late in the half on which the Jets might have taken the lead. Cutler was sacked by David Harris and lost the ball, but was declared down by contact. A review showed Cutler had fumbled, but Demario Davis’ return to the end zone was negated because the whistle had blown.
The Jets then went three-and-out.
Chicago opened the second half aggressively, marching 80 yards on six plays and capping the drive with Bennett’s 13-yard touchdown catch to make it 24-13.
The Bears nearly had a 12-yard TD by Marshall, but it was wiped out by an illegal hands to the face penalty on left guard Michael Ola, who started for the injured Matt Slauson.
The Jets also blew a possible scoring drive when Smith was intercepted by rookie Kyle Fuller on a poorly thrown pass to David Nelson in the end zone on first-and-10 from the Bears 18.
“You can’t force it in that situation,” Ryan said. “You learn from it.”
Folk’s 22-yard field goal late in the third quarter made it 24-16. His 42-yarder with 9:52 remaining got the Jets within five points.