DENVER - Former Broncos quarterback Jay Cutler got the reception he expected when he came out with the Bears' offense to start Sunday night's game against his former teammates at Invesco Field.
Cutler was booed exuberantly each time he stepped up under center, which is what he had predicted would happen.
"It was exactly what I prepared for and what I thought it would be," Cutler said. "This wasn't your everyday preseason game."
But it didn't take him long to shut up his many critics with a vintage performance in a 27-17 Bears victory.
"It meant something to me," said Cutler, who had downplayed the significance of the game earlier. "It meant something to this entire offense. It's the third preseason game, one of the biggest of all preseason, so we wanted to come out here and set a tempo and set a tone, and we did a good job."
The Bears' offense had the Broncos' fans cheering when it went three-and-out on its first two possessions, picking up a total of 10 yards as Cutler completed 2 of 4 passes for 3 yards and almost had a botched screen pass intercepted at his own goal line by diving linebacker D.J. Williams.
But Cutler, who completed 15 of 21 passes for 144 yards for a passer rating of 106.1, finally got the Bears rolling with passes of 5 yards to Matt Forte, 11 to Greg Olsen and 9 to Devin Hester.
Then, on third-and-1 Cutler rolled right after faking play-action left and connected with Desmond Clark for 25 yards to set up Robbie Gould's 40-yard field goal that tied the game at 3-3 with 10 seconds left in the first quarter.
The Broncos' field goal was set up by a 24-yard pass to Eddie Royal from Kyle Orton, who was traded by the Bears, along with three draft choices, for Cutler.
Devin Hester's 54-yard punt return to the Broncos' 4, and 2 Forte carries got the Bears in the end zone for a 10-3 lead with 8:12 left in the first half.
Then, just after Orton left the game with an injury to his right index finger, Cutler led a drive which Bears fans hope will be a sign of what's to come in the regular season.
Starting at their own 2, the Bears went 98 yards in 12 plays to take a 17-3 lead 13 seconds before halftime.
"That last drive was a long one," Cutler said. "We were out there a long time. Emotions (were) running high, not only for us but for them."
Cutler did a little bit of everything on the impressive march. From his own 4-yard line on third-and-8, he fired a dart to Earl Bennett for 16 yards. On the next play he hit Olsen in stride for 21 yards.
Then, with the Bears 6 yards from a score, Cutler bought time in the pocket by sidestepping the rush then drilled a low pass that Forte caught in a crowd in the end zone for a 17-3 lead.
"I was really impressed with his poise and his ability to stay focused with all the stuff going on all week," said Bears offensive coordinator Ron Turner. "Every time he turned around people were talking about it, and he had to put up with all that, and I thought he did a tremendous job of staying focused on the job at hand, and that was doing his job.
"He just maintained his poise and composure, which we knew he would do, and led us on a 98-yard drive, and he made some great individual plays on that drive."
By halftime Cutler had finished his work for the evening, leaving with a 17-3 lead.
"We're headed in the right direction," he said. "We have to tweak some things, but we're getting there."
Orton, whose finger was not broken but had additional tests scheduled for it, finished with an 89.6 passer rating after completing 12 of 16 passes before his injury.
Asked about all the drama that accompanied his divorce from the Broncos and the hype over his return for a preseason game, Cutler downplayed it.
"It's a business," he said. "You never know what's going to happen. Players and coaches change (teams) every day. I'm happy in Chicago. We've got a great thing going right now."
Bob LeGere's game tracker
Bears 27, Broncos 17
Patience pays off: It took awhile for Devin Hester to get his first punt return of the preseason, but the wait was worthwhile. Hester wasn't used on special teams in the first two preseason games, and Broncos punter Brett Kern thwarted him early Sunday night by keeping the ball away from the Pro Bowl return specialist. He hit a short, sky-high kick that bounced well in front of Hester and rolled Denver's way for a 59-yard net. Kern then hit another rainmaker for 57 yards that Hester unwisely fair caught at his 5-yard line. Kern booted a 45-yarder out of bounds, but then Hester took a high punt at the Bears' 43, veered right, and turned it up the sideline in front of the Bears' bench to the Broncos' 4, setting up the game's first TD.
Tough going: Matt Forte struggled to find much running room, picking up just 21 yards on 9 carries in the first half before getting the remainder of the night off. He managed just 11 yards on 4 receptions but scored on a 1-yard run and a 6-yard catch. Last week Forte had 58 yards on 9 carries.
Efficiency experts: Tight end Greg Olsen and wide receiver Devin Hester each had 3 passes thrown their way in the first half and each came away with 3 receptions, Olsen for 47 yards and Hester for 24.