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A little dirt doesn’t hurt Bears’ Jay Cutler

Updated: September 9, 2013 10:25AM



The Cincinnati Bengals are a good team — not great, but good — and you’ll take a win over them any way you can.

Especially on Opening Day. Especially with a new head coach, new assistants, a new middle linebacker, a new O-line, a new tight end, a new vision.

And especially if it means you have to come back in the fourth quarter to do it.

But most of all, it’s nice if you can do it — as the Bears did, 24-21 on Sunday at Soldier Field — with the same old quarterback you’ve had for years and from whom you’ve basically come to expect the worst.

Jay Cutler, 30, now in his fifth year in Chicago, played a terrific game.

His stats weren’t off-the-charts amazing — 21-for-33 passing for 242 yards, two touchdowns, one interception — but they were a testament to his ability to adapt, to ratchet down, to create at the right moment, to forget, to learn and to bond with a new offensive guru.

‘‘The goal in the first half was to find out a little bit more about ourselves,’’ said rookie head coach Marc Trestman, meaning himself and everybody under him. But mostly he meant his young offensive linemen and the veteran quarterback who was sacked 38 times last season.

The goal — at the beginning, at least — was to keep Cutler ‘‘clean.’’

But one of the best parts of Cutler’s first game under the play-calling Trestman was his 18-yard scramble in the fourth quarter that got him officially dirty. That and another hair-raising roll-right, scramble-left pass by Cutler were the creative acts that stood out in an overall erratic game.

The beginning was bad, but that led to some knowledge at the end.

‘‘No one got frustrated early,’’ Cutler said of the 21-10 hole the Bears were in midway through the third quarter. ‘‘Fourth quarter, that’s when you have to win ballgames in this league.’’

Oh, you could say the Bears’ defense bailed out the offense, as we’ve seen so many times though the years. But let’s forget for a moment about those two interceptions and two forced fumbles by Pro Bowl cornerbacks Peanut Tillman and Tim Jennings.

Let’s note instead that Cutler was playing under his fourth offensive coordinator in six years, and that the one thing Trestman had lamented about camp was that he didn’t get enough time to work individually with Cutler. ‘‘Not enough reps,’’ is how he put it.

And so our concern was that Cutler would be rusty, uncertain, confused.

As wide receiver Brandon Marshall, whose great catches all day long yanked Cutler out of tough spots, said of the QB, ‘‘Jay was amazing in the huddle.’’

That is, he was on top of everything, leading with confidence.

Indeed, if players think their reads and keys are difficult in a new offensive system, they should take the quarterback’s playbook for a spin. It resembles an instruction manual for a submarine. With road grader options.

Yes, Cutler threw a bad pass to start the fourth quarter that was intercepted by Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict. But, unflappable Jay that he is, he said, ‘‘It’s going to happen — it’s one of those things.’’

So thanks, Jennings, for getting the ball right back by causing and recovering that fumble by Bengals wideout Mohamed Sanu.

That’s when Cutler led an eight-play, 81-yard drive for the winning touchdown, finished by a nice 19-yard pass into the right edge of the end zone that Marshall held on to with his large, strong hands as safety Reggie Nelson tried to yank it free.

In the first quarter, Cutler also got a nice finger grab by new tight end Martellus Bennett for a touchdown, an eight-yarder that the 265-pound Bennett held on to as Bengals safety George Iloka whacked at it.

Quarterbacks need good receivers with good hands. Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton has A.J. Green (nine receptions, 162 yards, two TDs). But they need themselves and their connection with their offensive leader most of all.

That connection seemed to be there between Cutler and Trestman, especially if we believe that half this game was spent trying to keep Cutler upright and grass-stain-free, with little regard to actually moving the ball.

The offense was far from perfect, Cutler noted, ‘‘but it didn’t have to be.’’

Just win the fourth quarter.

Trestman praised Cutler’s big scrambling plays, pointing out those had nothing to do with the game plan or the coach’s play-calling.

So far, these two are best pals.

Email: rtelander@suntimes.com

Twitter: @ricktelander



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