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Jay Cutler starts slowly again for Bears

Updated: August 16, 2013 11:24AM



What is it about opening series with the Bears and Jay Cutler?

Last week, Cutler threw an interception on the first play from scrimmage against the Panthers in Charlotte.

Thursday night at gorgeous Soldier Field, Cutler opened like this: handoff to Matt Forte for a two-yard loss, sacked for a two-yard loss, sacked for a five-yard loss, punt.

No, he’s not responsible for the running play or the punt, and maybe not even the sacks, though on the second it looked as if he held on to the ball too long.

But what’s the deal with the bad starts?

Even stupid preseason “games’’ — which are actually ticketed, televised practices and tryouts — have a level of real-world authenticity. Last season, Cutler had some real stinkers early on in games, and you hate to see anything like a trend continue.

He was sacked on the first play of the regular season in 2012, a 12-yard loss. He was sacked for a 13-yard loss on the first offensive play of the next game, against the Packers. In the fifth game, against the Jaguars, he threw an interception in the first series.

All told, the Bears’ offense had a negative play in the first series of 12 of its first 13 games last year, including three interceptions and two lost fumbles.

Is new coach Mark Trestman aware of this?

“I’m sure he could have made a better decision,’’ Trestman said delicately of Cutler’s interception, thrown into a smothering zone defense.

It could be nothing but things averaging out. But it also could be something more ominous, such as a lack of focus at the start, bad play-calling, poor recognition of defenses — both by coach and quarterback — mental laziness, weak discipline, a need to take a couple blows to the noggin to get into the game. Who knows?

In a profession in which every detail is covered with obsessive attention — where else would you have an assistant special-teams coach? — somebody ought to manage the beginnings of Bears games exclusively. In its first possession Thursday night, the Cutler-led offense went backward 14 yards.

The second series was much better. Maybe it came through to coach and quarterback that even though this is a silly-yet-dangerous exercise, it is also watched by people. And it has a tad bit of relevance.

Cutler got tailback Forte revved up to the tune of a 58-yard run and completed three of three passes — all to favorite wideout Brandon Marshall — with the last being a five-yard touchdown throw.

That was good. It made up for the mess at the start. But clearly it didn’t erase it from the memory bank.

For on the first play of the next series, Cutler threw a terrible pass down the middle to Marshall that Chargers inside linebacker Donald Butler intercepted easily. The pass was bad because it went sailing into double coverage, with a safety behind Marshall and Butler on a deep drop in front.

“We had some ups, had some downs,’’ said Cutler succinctly.

In the end Cutler would finish his half of work with a curious 98.3 passer rating, an excellent number that somehow didn’t seem to define his stuttering, 4-for-5, 38 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT. performance. Ninety-eight-point-three is a Hall of Fame career average. This sure didn’t seem Hall of Fame worthy. Especially with the two sacks thrown in.

Such is the vagary of numerical formulas.

What is plain to the naked eye is inconsistency and the danger that a team can be in when it starts out in the hole, not taking advantage of every possession, careless with its chances when the end clock seems far away.

True, the finish of games is more important than the start. But then we won’t see Cutler at the end of any of these preseason games, and hardly at all in Game 4, when the last frantic hangers-on are fighting for jobs.

Cutler still is a mystery here in Chicago. We don’t know quite what to think of him and his skills. And we have no idea what kind of NFL coach Trestman will be, since he has never been one.

Cutler looked a lot better than Chargers veteran quarterback Phillip Rivers, who came out with a 31.9 rating. And that was good for comparison.

But the way the Cutler offense starts games can use improvement. Maybe a lot. Definitely a lot.

Think about it, Bears.



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