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Armed with some extra weapons, Jay Cutler has no excuses

FILE - This May 23 2012 file phoshows Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler left throwing pass wide receiver BrandMarshall as

FILE - This May 23, 2012 file photo shows Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler, left, throwing a pass to wide receiver Brandon Marshall, as quarterback Josh McCown, (12) watches during NFL football practice in Lake Forest, Ill. An explosive tandem in Denver, Cutler and Marshall are reunited with the Chicago Bears. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast, File)

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Updated: September 15, 2012 6:18AM



BOURBONNAIS — Mike Tice admittedly is having trouble sleeping at night.

That will be the case until the Bears’ offensive coordinator “knows our quarterback is protected.’’

When your head hits that pillow tonight, Mike, sleep easy knowing that at least you have a franchise quarterback to protect.

Less than half the teams in the NFL can say that.

That’s why all the other preseason talk is meaningless. Forget about Brian Urlacher’s left knee, the daily microscope put on the reps J’Marcus Webb and Chris Williams are getting at left tackle and anything Brandon Marshall does in practice.

This season is about quarterback Jay Cutler.

Make that, this season is on Jay Cutler.

No more excuses about wide receivers who are too short or don’t have good enough hands. No more blaming former offensive coordinator Mike Martz for a playbook that seemed right out of a video game. And definitely no more losing sleep over an offensive line.

Just don’t expect the coaches to admit that. The best protection Cutler has received in camp hasn’t come from a lineman. It came Monday from quarterbacks coach Jeremy Bates, who threw his body in front of Cutler’s blind side with the dexterity of a 10-time Pro Bowl tackle.

“There have been some great quarterbacks that haven’t won Super Bowls, and I don’t think you can say they’re not great because of that,” Bates said. “The beauty of football is it’s 11 guys, and if one guy fails to do his responsibility or his job, then we’re not going to
succeed.’’

Great coachspeak, but the game has changed.

Welcome to Roger Goodell’s pass-first, don’t-worry-about-being-hit-later league. Quarterbacks are basically flag-football players to be set gingerly down to the ground, while receivers have no fear of getting wiped out because of the yellow flags that will litter the field seconds after a hit is deemed excessive. Passing records fell last season for a reason.

Seven quarterbacks ranked among the top 10 in passing yards were in the playoffs.

Seven quarterbacks ranked among the top 10 in passer rating were in the playoffs.

Coincidence? Absolutely not.

This is about having a franchise quarterback surrounded with weapons. And then hope the defense, special teams and offensive line show up with some sort of consistency.

Cutler has franchise-quarterback ability and franchise-quarterback bravado, but he has been missing franchise-quarterback results. And it always seemed to come with excuses. No more.

Consider: An elite receiver in Marshall, an up-and-coming target in Alshon Jeffery, two power forwards who double as tight ends, two first-string running backs who also can catch the ball out of the backfield and at least three linemen who can walk and chew gum at the same time.

Print the playoff tickets, as long as Cutler does what’s expected.

“Protection-wise, we’re going to do what we have to do to protect me or whoever is in there,’’ Cutler said. “If we’ve got to keep eight in there, if we’ve got to keep nine in there, that’s what we’re going to do. We’re not going to put those guys into positions where they’ll fail or I’m going to get hit. We would like them to step up and block four-on-four, five-on-five and we’ll see what happens.’’

Super Bowl winner Eli Manning worked behind a makeshift line that still was undergoing changes late in the season and was terrible at run-blocking.

Two years ago, both Ben Roethlisberger and Aaron Rodgers went to the Super Bowl with teams that had suspect offensive lines.

Tice even admitted that the Bears are running a more “rhythmic’’ offense this season, which is more about timing and less about a line needing to hold a spot beyond the norm.

With Urlacher aging and the rest of the defense losing its bite, the torch is being passed. From Urlacher to Cutler. From the defense to the offense.

“[Cutler] hasn’t really said it to me, but obviously as you look as far as our wide receivers, running backs and tight ends, as far as weapons — if that’s what is being called weapons — it’s an impressive group,’’ Bates said.

“Impressive’’ is nice. But only Cutler can make them lethal.



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