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Jay Cutler vs. Philip Rivers isn’t a classic, but there is some history

Jay Cutler

Jay Cutler

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Updated: December 18, 2011 5:24PM

Jay Cutler vs. Philip Rivers is one of the oddest quarterback rivalries in NFL history. It’s rooted in each other’s personality quirks — Rivers’ brashness vs. Cutler’s . . . Cutler-ness, for lack of a better term — rather than a history of last-minute heroics to win classic games.

It began late in the 2007 season, when Rivers and the Chargers whipped Cutler and the Broncos 23-3, and TV cameras caught Rivers and teammates taunting Cutler after his last incomplete pass. The Chargers said it was in response to Cutler trash-talking during the game. Cutler was miffed nonetheless, and the battle was on.

During an appearance on ‘‘The Best Damn Sports Show, Period’’ the following season, Cutler fanned the flames when asked about Rivers. ‘‘I’m just not that big of a fan of the guy,’’ he said. ‘‘I don’t like how he carries himself.’’

Cutler’s shot was dripping with irony — or it certainly is today. Cutler saying he doesn’t like the way Rivers carries himself is like Kim Kardashian calling Lindsay Lohan tacky. But that’s what makes this rivalry so intriguing. These guys should be the best of friends because they have so much in common.

Rivers and Cutler are the two most star-crossed quarterbacks in the NFL. Each has great physical skills that are both a blessing and a curse — they’re good enough to make the Pro Bowl but lacking that something extra that has carried Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees and even Eli Manning to the top.

Both play with emotion but have struggled to channel it in the right direction on game days. Two weeks after Cutler was caught directing an obscenity toward offensive coordinator Mike Martz against the Vikings, Rivers was admonishing teammates in a loss to the Chiefs on ‘‘Monday Night Football.’’ And their body language becomes an issue. Even LaDainian Tomlinson, Rivers’ former teammate now with the Jets, recently said Rivers looks ‘‘distracted’’ on the sideline.

But they’ve got talent. Rivers, 29, had been better than even Rodgers until this season. From 2008 to ’10, he averaged 4,324 passing yards and 31 touchdown passes. He led the NFL in passer rating in 2008 (105.5), was third in 2009 (104.4) and second last season (101.8) — ahead of Rodgers every time.

But, like Cutler, it seems like there’s always something. A bad game at the wrong time cost the Chargers a playoff berth last season. Rivers was driving the Chargers for a winning field goal at Kansas City on Oct. 31 when he fumbled the snap and lost possession. The Chiefs won in overtime.

Cutler, of course, is fighting a similar battle — good enough to get close but unable to get over the top. He made the playoffs for the first time in his career last season. His best chance before that was in 2008 with Denver. But the Broncos lost to the Chargers 52-21 when Rivers was excellent (two touchdowns, 141.0 rating) and Cutler struggled (one touchdown, two interceptions, 74.9 rating).

Cutler will face Rivers for the first time since then on Sunday at Soldier Field. Both players downplayed the rivalry. But Cutler wasn’t too interested when reporters tried to repair their fractured relationship.

‘‘I don’t know, man,’’ Cutler said. ‘‘You got his number? We can call him up.’’

Rivers was uncomfortable when the issue was brought up on a conference call with Chicago-area reporters Wednesday. ‘‘I’d rather talk about the Bears, to be honest with you,’’ he said in his native-Alabama drawl.

But it was clear he has no hard feelings.

‘‘We’ve spoken since then, whether it be at the coin toss or the postgame,’’ Rivers said. ‘‘It wasn’t as if we were big buddies beforehand and had a big falling out. He and I had had minimal conversations even before all of that got blown way out of proportion. I have nothing against Jay. I think he’s a heck of a player. He’s a super competitor.’’

They both are, actually, which is why these two guys would probably be pretty good friends if they ever had the chance to know each other. They’re both victims of not being as good as people think they should be. They’ve won big games. They’ve both played in conference championship games. Cutler was 6-for-14 for 80 yards and a 31.8 passer rating against the Packers in January. Rivers was 19-for-37 for 211 yards and two touchdowns and a 46.1 rating against the Patriots in 2008. Stuff happens.

Together, they’re an example of how challenging it is to be a championship quarterback in the NFL. Being good isn’t good enough.

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