Then, the waiting began.
Cutler threw for 257 yards and a touchdown and helped seal the game with a late scramble, and the Chicago Bears kept its playoff hopes alive -- for a bit -- with a 26-24 win over the Lions on Sunday.
The Bears (10-6) still needed a Minnesota Vikings loss to the Green Bay Packers to reach the postseason, but the Vikings won 37-34 to dash the Bears' playoff hopes. The win by the Bears eliminated the defending champion New York Giants from the playoff picture.
"I don't usually say this, but 'Go Pack Go,'" Cutler said.
"We did what we needed to do. The rest is out of our control," coach Lovie Smith said. "All we can do now is hold our breath and watch."
The Lions (4-12) lost their last eight games and turned the ball over four times in the finale. Calvin Johnson fell short in his attempt to become the first player with 2,000 yards receiving in a season.
Detroit trailed 20-3 late in the first half but pulled within two in the fourth quarter and had the ball at its own 9-yard line before a three-and-out forced a punt.
Johnson, who broke Jerry Rice's record of 1,848 yards receiving the previous weekend, finished at 1,964 after catching five passes for 72 yards.
"It's hard to shut down Calvin Johnson, but we just put as many guys as we possibly could on him," Smith said. "We doubled him a lot, and we were always rolling extra guys at him. We didn't want to get anything deep; we wanted him to earn everything he got underneath."
Detroit's Matthew Stafford went 24-of-42 passing for 272 yards with three touchdowns and an interception. He finished the season with an NFL-record 727 pass attempts, surpassing Drew Bledsoe's mark of 691 from 1994.
Stafford fell short of a second consecutive 5,000-yard season, finishing at 4,967 through the air.
It was a surprising fall for the Lions, who made the playoffs last season for the first time in a dozen years. Coach Jim Schwartz wouldn't address speculation about his job status.
"The thing I'm most concerned with is getting this team back to where we all want it to be," he said. "I'm not proud at all of our record."
The Lions scored two touchdowns in a row to make it 20-17 in the third quarter, but Chicago, which came into the game with a league-high 40 takeaways, forced another turnover.
Olindo Mare added another field goal, a 20-yarder with 10:47 left in the fourth, to make it 26-17. Stafford's 9-yard touchdown pass to Brian Robiskie pulled Detroit closer, but it wasn't enough.
Cutler threw a 55-yard pass to Alshon Jeffery to the Detroit 27 on Chicago's first play from scrimmage, delighting the many Chicago fans in attendance at Ford Field. But that drive stalled, and the Bears actually had to punt after Cutler fumbled on third down and the ball was recovered back at midfield.
After the Lions kicked a field goal, Chicago struck back when Cutler swung a pass out to Earl Bennett, who made the catch behind the line of scrimmage, got a block and outran the defense for a surprisingly easy 60-yard touchdown.
Joique Bell fumbled away the ensuing kickoff, and the Bears kicked a field goal. In the second quarter, Stafford fumbled deep in his own territory. Julius Peppers recovered for Chicago, and his short return gave the Bears the ball at the 10.
The Lions weren't done giving the ball away. Tim Jennings picked off Stafford's overthrown pass, and his 31-yard return to the Detroit 23 set up another field goal.
Stafford's 25-yard scoring pass to Kris Durham with 12 seconds left in the half made it 20-10, and he threw a 10-yarder in the third to Will Heller.
NOTES: Chicago TE Matt Spaeth left the game with a concussion. ... The Bears were without LB Brian Urlacher (hamstring). He hasn't played since Dec. 2.
Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press