CHICAGO (AP) -- Marcus Mariota and the Tennessee Titans were hoping the final five games would vault them to the top of the AFC South and into the playoffs.
They're off to a good start.
For that, they can thank one dropped pass in the end zone.
Mariota threw for 226 yards and two touchdowns, and the Titans hung on to beat the depleted Chicago Bears 27-21 on Sunday.
The Titans (6-6) gave their playoff hopes a boost, though they watched as Chicago (2-9) cut a 20-point lead to six in the fourth quarter.
Matt Barkley, starting for the injured Jay Cutler, led the late surge. The Bears had a first down at the Tennessee 7 in the final minute when Josh Bellamy dropped a pass in the end zone . Barkley's next three attempts fell incomplete, preserving the win for Tennessee.
"I'm beating myself up because I expect more out of myself," Bellamy said.
The Titans moved one-half game out of first place in the AFC South when Houston lost to San Diego.
"That's all you want," Mariota said. "You want an opportunity this time of the year to get a chance to (win) a division title and maybe make a run at the playoffs. That's all you can really ask for."
Mariota, putting together one of the best seasons ever by a Titans quarterback, came through with another solid performance. The second-year pro completed 15 of 23 passes and threw for multiple touchdowns in his eighth straight game.
Rishard Matthews added 64 yards receiving, including a diving touchdown grab near the end of the first half. Delanie Walker had three catches for 50 yards and a touchdown, and the Titans headed into their bye on a winning note after losing at Indianapolis last week.
With Cutler nursing a right shoulder injury, the Bears were forced to give Barkley his first career start. The former Southern California star struggled before coming on strong down the stretch, going 28 for 54 for 316 yards with the first three touchdowns of his career and two interceptions.
"Even though we lost, it's encouraging at the same time to see how these guys fought and how they really banded together to play for each other," Barkley said. "It was cool to see. So I think just moving on from here, knowing that we can win, that we have guys on the team that can win games, just making sure that we don't shoot ourselves in the foot. I think that's the goal from here on out."
Barkley got picked off by Wesley Woodyard with the ball on the Tennessee 16 in the second quarter, and he was intercepted in the end zone by Da'Norris Searcy early in the third.
He did, however, throw a 6-yard touchdown to Deonte Thompson with just over three minutes left to cut it to 27-21. The Bears got the ball back on their 35 with 1:56 remaining after the Titans went three-and-out. But they couldn't complete the comeback.
"It was quite a ride," Titans coach Mike Mularkey said. "Like I said, a lot of these games are like a whitewater."
Barkley, who came in with six career interceptions, threw his first touchdown as a pro when he hit Daniel Brown for a 7-yarder for a 7-0 lead late in the first quarter.
But it was all Titans the rest of the half.
They scored touchdowns on their next two possessions, with Derrick Henry turning the left corner for an 11-yard run and Mariota hitting Walker with a 4-yard pass .
The Bears then had a big opportunity after the Titans' LeShaun Sims got called for a 45-yard pass-interference penalty. But with the ball on the 16, Woodyard picked off a pass Barkley tried to squeeze to Ben Braunecker .
Matthews made it a 14-point game with a spectacular touchdown catch near the end of the half. With his back to the quarterback, he sprawled out to haul in a 29-yard pass in the end zone.
Titans: DT Jurrell Casey sprained his foot and was to have tests in Nashville. ... CB Jason McCourty exited because of a bruised knee.
Bears: LB Danny Trevathan exited with a right knee injury that coach John Fox said was serious.
Besides Cutler, the Bears also held out LB Leonard Floyd (concussion) and G Josh Sitton (ankle). WR Alshon Jeffery served the second game of a four-game suspension for violating the NFL's policy on performance enhancers, while LB Jerrell Freeman served his first game after being suspended on Monday.
Titans: Have a bye next week, then host Denver on Dec. 11.
Bears: Host San Francisco on Sunday.
© 2017 Associated Press