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If Bears are to make noise, Jay Cutler has to raise his game

Jay Cutler’s passer rating 84.0 is second-lowest his career. Only his 76.8 rating 2009 is worse.  |  Tom

Jay Cutler’s passer rating of 84.0 is the second-lowest of his career. Only his 76.8 rating in 2009 is worse. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Updated: December 2, 2011 8:23AM

Rex Grossman’s biggest flaw as quarterback of the Bears was that he was only at his best in a bubble.

For the most part, everything had to be just right for Grossman to succeed. His best games were often at home, in great weather, with great protection, short fields, leading all the way, backed by a dominant defense and a kick-return touchdown or two by Devin Hester.

At the height of his glory in 2006, Grossman was an MVP candidate with 100-plus passer ratings in five of his first seven games — the Bears were leading 26-0, 24-0, 37-6, 40-0 and 41-0, and Grossman was sacked three times in those five games. It was all downhill from there — and the Bears still almost won a Super Bowl with him.

That Jay Cutler is a more resilient quarterback and better at thriving outside of his comfort zone is unquestioned. That he’s a better guy and a better teammate than he appears to be publicly is probably true. That he has been more tolerant of our stupid, ­nit-picky and annoying questions at news conferences is a credit to him and more of a benefit to him than he realizes.

Now Cutler needs to take the next step, because for all the progress he appears to have made in his third season with the Bears and his second under Mike Martz, his passer rating of 84.0 is the second-lowest of his career. It exceeds only the 76.8 rating in his first year with the Bears (2009).

The Bears have many question marks in the post-bye part of their schedule, but Cutler is the one player who can render more of them moot by raising his game to a new level with a big second half simply because he can.

The Bears can let Cutler take the Grossman route — and hope that Julius Peppers has a monster second half, Chris Conte learns quickly, Cutler gets plenty of time to throw and it doesn’t snow at Soldier Field in December — so he can manage the Bears to the playoffs. Or Cutler can just have a great second half because he’s Jay Cutler. Or he’s supposed to be, anyway.

A year ago at this time, the Packers and Giants were in the hunt for a playoff spot. Aaron Rodgers (12 touchdowns, nine interceptions, 85.2 rating) and Eli Manning (14 touchdowns, 11 interceptions, 88.3) were having Cutler-like seasons. In the second half, Rodgers stepped up (13 touchdowns, two interceptions, 122.4). Manning did not (17 touchdowns, 14 interceptions, 83.0). The ­Packers edged the Giants for the last wild-card berth. And the rest, very literally, is history.

It might be too much to ask Cutler to be Aaron Rodgers. He just has to be closer to Rodgers than he does to Eli Manning — and Grossman — in the second half.

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