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Cutler vs. Rodgers: A new rivalry

Expect AarRodgers Jay Cutler air it out.  |  AP

Expect Aaron Rodgers and Jay Cutler to air it out. | AP

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Updated: April 8, 2011 5:01PM

Legend has it that when Jay Cutler arrived in Chicago a couple of years ago, one of the first guys he contacted was his old buddy Aaron Rodgers. Cutler sent a text to the Packers quarterback, saying he gets to beat Rodgers twice a year now. Well, actually, when asked about it a couple of years ago, Cutler claimed he texted that the two get to see each other twice a year.

Why ruin a perfectly good story?

Cutler will see his old pal for the third time this season when the two hook up in the NFC Championship Game on Sunday at Soldier Field.

‘‘Yeah, I texted him after [the Packers’ 48-21 victory in Atlanta on Saturday night] and told him, ‘Good game,’ ’’ Cutler said. ‘‘I’ll probably have a few text messages from him, so we’ll have friendly banter, I’m sure. Impressive win they had last night. What they did on the road to an Atlanta team is hard to do. So we’ve got our hands full.’’

Cutler wasn’t quite as accurate as Rodgers, but his performance in the Bears’ 35-24 victory over the Seahawks on Sunday at Soldier Field was extremely impressive in its own right. Cutler became only the sixth quarterback in the last 25 attempts to win in his first playoff appearance. Cutler threw a 58-yard touchdown pass to Greg Olsen on his first pass and wound up with a 111.3 rating. He was 15-for-28 for 274 yards with two touchdown passes and had two touchdown runs and a career-high 43 rushing yards.

It was the kind of performance that had the Bears’ locker room buzzing, not just about the matchup with the Packers, but also the possibility of a Tom Brady-Peyton Manning-style rivalry. The Bears have played the Packers in the playoffs once, and that was a week after the attack on Pearl Harbor, but that didn’t stop defensive end Julius Peppers from making a bold statement.

‘‘As long as Aaron Rodgers is over there, we probably will be meeting them in the playoffs the next couple of years,’’ Peppers said. ‘‘I really think so.’’

Rodgers is on an unbelievable roll. The Bears have nothing but compliments and respect. How can you not be impressed by the Packers’ run, especially the way they have overcome significant injuries? Ryan Grant, Jermichael Finley, Nick Barnett, Mark Tauscher, Greg Jones and nine others are lost for the season.

The Packers have beaten teams with a combined 45-20 regular-season record their last four games to get to Soldier Field. The Bears had to beat the sub-.500 Seahawks to secure their spot.

Bears general manager Jerry Angelo told WBBM Radio before the game that Cutler, like any quarterback, is the key to the postseason.

‘‘We’ll go as he goes,’’ Angelo said. ‘‘He’ll have to play well for us to win.’’

That’s certainly the case next week, when Rodgers and his explosive offense come to town. Cutler has one victory in four starts against Green Bay since joining the Bears, but he has put up a lower passer rating than Rodgers in all four starts — 43.2, 74.9, 82.5 and 43.5 as opposed to Rodgers’ 92.0, 88.9, 92.5 and 89.7.

Cutler has obviously made more mistakes in those games, throwing nine picks, including four in the 2009 season opener. The Packers have sacked Cutler 14 times in those games.

But the impressive thing when you break down the numbers is that the Bears have played excellent defense against Rodgers, allowing only three touchdowns to two interceptions, while sacking him nine times.

‘‘I kind of compare [Rodgers] to one of the great quarterbacks,’’ cornerback Tim Jennings said. ‘‘You can compare him to Drew Brees and Peyton Manning. He is going to take what the defense gives him, and he’s not going to make that many mistakes. We have to keep coming at him, keep disguising things and keep him uncomfortable in the pocket. That’s what you have to do to beat great quarterbacks, and he is emerging as one of those great quarterbacks.’’

Which guy is better, Rodgers or Cutler?

‘‘I like our guy better,’’ Jennings said. ‘‘Just the fact that that’s our guy. That is the guy I play with. I kinda like our quarterback better, but they’re both good quarterbacks and great competitors.

‘‘Jay is going to take more chances. He’s more aggressive. Rodgers is going to take what the defense gives him, check it down and let the players around him do what they do. I like our guy better because he is aggressive, and when he makes a play, it’s going to be a big play.’’

The NFC Championship Game could be more than a continuation of the league’s longest rivalry. It might be the start of something new.

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