The pressure seems to be mounting significantly on Bears quarterback Jay Cutler.
Mid-December. Contract year. The NFC North title race suddenly more cluttered than the checkout lines at Best Buy.
So much has been coming at Cutler in recent weeks.
During his four-game absence with a high-ankle sprain, understudy Josh McCown emerged as a difference-maker, generating a tsunami of public support.
That meant Cutler's return last weekend against the Browns was greeted with more debate than enthusiasm across Chicago. And with all that comes this week's high-stakes Sunday night clash with the Eagles, on the road, with Cutler still getting comfortable again as the Bears' starter.
Wouldn't it be reasonable, amid all that, to assume the quarterback might be feeling heightened anxiety?
"I feel pretty good," Cutler said Thursday. "I feel kind of at ease."
Once again, Cutler had no difficulty identifying why his mindset has remained so relaxed. The Bears' protection up front, he noted, has been solid all year. Plus, the array of playmakers around him is as reliable and explosive as any in the league.
"It makes it easy for me," Cutler said. "Just find the open guy."
Finding a proper emotional balance also has been key.
Throughout last week, Bears coaches and players openly acknowledged what they characterized as "noise," their five-letter summary to characterize the arguments and chaos that swirled around Cutler's return.
By the weekend, chatter had escalated to the point that a pair of national reports indicated the disagreement over the Bears' quarterback decision had escalated inside Halas Hall.
Linebacker Lance Briggs seemed somewhat evasive Thursday when asked directly what his feelings were on Cutler's return.
Said Briggs: "It's not our responsibility to handle what's going on with the offense. We take care of what we take care of, and the offense, they'll handle that."
Cutler, meanwhile, believed it was productive for coaches and players to acknowledge "the noise" and find ways to deal with it.
"It would be foolish just to lie and say we weren't aware of it," Cutler said. "That's unreasonable. Everyone's human in this building. Another reason to acknowledge it is the guys did such a great job of handling it. ... We were able to hear it, deal with it in our own certain way and move on and get the job done on Sunday."
A 38-31 Bears victory over the Browns required Cutler to rebound from two first-half interceptions, the direction of the season shifting when he threw two fourth-quarter touchdown passes and produced three straight touchdown drives to seal a much-needed victory.
It was needed to push the Bears into first place, but it also was needed to keep Cutler on an even keel.
"Last week was a tough week with everything surrounding it, the implications of the game," Cutler said. "If we did lose the game, having to walk into the media room and deal with you guys. All those things weigh on you."
Now, the weight seems to have lifted.
Cutler's ability to handle that pressure seems noteworthy. But it's what coach Marc Trestman expected all along.
Trestman voiced his praise Thursday for Cutler's manner of "handling adversity and being able to move forward and turn something so negative into a positive."
"That's something that has been apparent as I've gotten to know him," Trestman said. "That's what Sunday was all about."
Receiver Brandon Marshall was a limited participant in Thursday's practice after sitting out the previous day with quadriceps and hamstring issues.
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