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Updated: September 23, 2013 2:31PM
PITTSBURGH — Leads of 17-0 and 24-3 should be enough to win football games. Maybe that was the problem for the Bears on Sunday night. Maybe that’s why they took their foot off the accelerator, then used both feet to slam on the brakes.
If you go by that theory, then you’re saying complacency set in for the Bears against the Pittsburgh Steelers, which goes against the preferred story line of the last few months — that new coach Marc Trestman has shaped this team in his own dynamic image. It looked like the offensive guru was tucked in and asleep by the third quarter.
But the Bears woke up in time on a crazy night that felt like three games wrapped into one. There were the aforementioned big leads. Then there was a Steelers comeback during which the Bears looked comatose. Then there was the final act in which Jay Cutler brought the offense back to life and Julius Peppers made an appearance.
The result was a 40-23 Bears victory. After such an up-and-down game, the answer to the question of whether the 3-0 Bears are for real is thus a three-part one: Yes, no, yes.
Or to sum up: Sure. Why not?
The Bears were up 27-23 in the fourth quarter, and those earlier leads seemed so far away. As did their confidence on offense. So they went to Plan B — ‘‘B’’ being Cutler’s nickname for Brandon Marshall. Under intense pressure, Cutler went back to his favorite receiver, hitting Marshall for a 41-yard gain.
‘‘Jay threw a 50-yard back shoulder,’’ Marshall said. ‘‘I’ve never seen that happen before. The guy’s arm is amazing. Jay, man, put it in the right place.’’
Then Cutler hit Earl Bennett with a 17-yard touchdown pass to get some breathing room. Officials initially ruled him out of bounds, but the Bears won the challenge.
‘‘We kept our poise in the noise,’’ said Trestman, his rap career surely right around the corner.
Peppers, who had been missing in ‘‘action’’ the first two games, returned a fumble 42 yards for a touchdown to give the Bears some late insurance. They had two defensive scores on the night.
If you’re a Bears fan, your mood swings have vertigo.
There were questions and answers Sunday night.
Does Cutler still have a problem under the lights?
He came in 8-7 in night games as a Bear, compared with a 28-15 record in the daytime. Bears fans are still wincing over the beating he and the team took against the Green Bay Packers in a Thursday night loss last season. Cutler threw four interceptions and was sacked seven times in that game.
Answer: Cutler looked calm and cool at times Sunday, but there were long periods when the Bears’ offense stalled. He certainly started out well. He was 8-for-10 on the first drive, which ended in a field goal.
Cutler, who completed 20 of 30 passes for 159 yards, did enough to win.
On the drive that led to Bennett’s touchdown, Cutler converted three third downs, one on a run in which he got rocked. Sliding is always the answer, Jay.
‘‘This could have been a very frustrating night,’’ Trestman said. ‘‘There were some people in his face. He had to scramble. But we knew going in it wasn’t going to be simple.’’
Is Trestman actually Willy Wonka, as tight end Martellus Bennett says he is?
Answer: At a minimum, he’s a wonk. He got much too conservative on offense after taking a 17-0 lead. But I assume he’ll give out good candy this Halloween.
‘‘We got a quick jump, but that’s a really good defense to go out there and try to score 80 points,’’ Martellus Bennett said.
Is Peppers back?
Last week, Peppers avoided questions about his poor performance in the first two games of the season.
Answer: He is alive. He had a tackle for a loss in the first half and the fumble return late.
The Bears think the problem lies not just with Peppers but also with the interior linemen, who aren’t getting enough of a push to disrupt the quarterback. The linebackers blitzed often Sunday. D.J. Williams had a sack that led to Ben Roethlisberger fumbling in the first quarter. Going forward, it won’t help that Henry Melton had to be carted off the field with a knee injury.
Why are the Packers 1-2 and the Bears 3-0?
Bears fans’ answer: Because God is a Bears fan.