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JENSEN: Cutler reinforces the point of just how important he is to Bears

Jay Cutler scrambles first quarter Bears’ 28-10 victory. Cutler went 23-for-31 for 188 yards was sacked once. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

Jay Cutler scrambles in the first quarter of the Bears’ 28-10 victory. Cutler went 23-for-31 for 188 yards and was sacked once. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Updated: December 27, 2012 6:19AM



Six days after watching a rout from his couch, quarterback Jay Cutler looked and sounded like a new — if not, at least, a renewed — man Sunday at Soldier Field.

Cutler played “fiery,” receiver Brandon Marshall noted, appearing more animated than usual, even drawing a taunting penalty for flipping the ball at Minnesota Vikings cornerback A.J. Jefferson at the conclusion of a five-yard run. The numbers don’t do justice to the yeoman-like performance of Cutler, who tied offensive tackle J’Marcus Webb’s shoe in the fourth quarter (seriously) and might have re-taped Charles Tillman’s ankle on the sideline (kidding).

“He was fired up,” Marshall said of Cutler, who missed the 32-7 loss to the San Francisco 49ers with a concussion. “His balls had a lot of zip on them all week. He wanted it perfect in practice, and it showed in the game.

“It transferred over because he was on fire.”

In the Bears’ 28-10 victory over the Vikings, Cutler completed 23 of 31 passes for just 188 yards with one touchdown and one interception. The lone sack came on the second offensive play, when he tripped over center Roberto Garza’s foot.

And while the legacy of Cutler in Chicago isn’t complete, he reinforced his importance to the Bears both in his absence last Monday and in his presence Sunday.

He avoided a handful of sacks, most notably in the first quarter, when defensive end Everson Griffen barreled toward him, unblocked. Cutler sidestepped him, and, as he was being pulled down, completed a four-yard pass to running back Matt Forte near the sideline.

He also zipped some passes into narrow crevices, the sort of attempts reminiscent of Brett Favre. Ironically, on a day when Cutler completed 74.2 percent of his passes, including 15 of 17 in the first half, he missed the mark when Marshall was wide open early in the third quarter.

“The windows get small sometimes when you go against teams that really know how to play cover-2, and we knew it was going to be small windows,” Marshall said. “When you have a quarterback like Jay Cutler, there is no hole too small.”

It was hard not to recall last season, when the Bears crumbled after a 7-3 start and finished 8-8 without Cutler in the lineup. But Cutler missed just one game after suffering a concussion in a 13-6 loss to the Houston Texans, and he keyed a must-win game against the Vikings.

After another slow start, Cutler completed an 11-yard pass to receiver Earl Bennett on third-and-six and fired a 15-yarder to tight end Kellen Davis that set up a one-yard touchdown run by Michael Bush. On a nearly 11-minute, 80-yard touchdown drive in the second quarter, Cutler converted two third-down passes and benefitted from a 24-yard pass-interference penalty drawn by Marshall, setting up another Bush touchdown from a yard out.

“Jay is one of the best quarterbacks in the league, so everyone needs their star quarterback playing,” coach Lovie Smith said. “Of course, we are no different. We expected him to give us a boost. I thought he played outstanding ball.”

What was most encouraging was what Cutler said after the game, that he recognizes what he and the offense must do, especially with several offensive linemen injured Sunday.

Asked if his approach changes, Cutler said, “Absolutely.

“When you have a line of new guys in there, I want to get rid of the ball fast, find my first read and take it.”

Cutler mentioned limiting sacks, running the ball better and possibly designing routes to “shorten things up.”

With that mind-set from Cutler, the Bears may have a fighting chance at a deep playoff run.



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