Before the Bears turned the tide against Brett Favre near the end of his run with the Packers as Lovie Smith's defense found regular success in the rivalry, the organization talked about one day finding a quarterback to compete in the NFC North.
Before the Bears identified their quarterback, the Packers transitioned to Aaron Rodgers, who has had a better winning percentage in the series than Favre (22-10 with Packers). Rodgers had been the starter for a year when the Bears swung the trade with two first-round draft picks for Jay Cutler in 2009.
Now, with the offense rebuilt around him, Cutler gets to show what he can do Sunday in a winner-take-all meeting with the Packers at Soldier Field. As well as Rodgers has played against the Bears (9-3 in 12 starts), Cutler has struggled against the Packers for the Bears (1-7).
"Same old Jay," is what former Packers defensive back Charles Woodson used to say with the belief there would be interceptions to make. Woodson is now with the Raiders, but if he was still in Green Bay he might not make the same evaluation.
The offense has taken off in coach Marc Trestman's first season and now Cutler has a chance to guide the Bears to an NFC North title and home wild-card playoff game next weekend. Cutler missed the Week 9 meeting at Lambeau Field with a groin muscle injury. In his fifth season with the Bears, he's outfitted with wide receivers, a tight end, a running back and a revamped offensive line. Cutler's supporters will say he was short-handed in the past against the Packers. His detractors will say elite quarterbacks raise the level of play of those around them.
The line played well in the previous meeting against the Packers. The Bears' 18-play drive at the end of the game took 8 minutes, 58 seconds off the clock, overcame 15 yards in penalties and ended with a Robbie Gould field goal. Trestman made a decision to go for it on fourth-and-1 from his own 32-yard line.
That wasn't the only big drive. The Bears also went 93 yards in 12 plays in the final 4:16 of the second quarter to end the first half on a Gould field goal. Physically, the Bears' offensive line controlled the game and if that happens again, Cutler should have an opportunity to flourish. It's going to require a bounce-back game because the front five struggled badly in last week's loss to the Eagles in Philadelphia when Cutler was sacked five times.
"We have to protect our quarterback, establish the running game and find a good balance," center Roberto Garza said. "We kept our quarterback clean (in the Nov. 4 meeting) and when you can do that, you give yourself a chance.
"It's not just Jay. We all have to have a good game. We have to give him the time to make those throws downfield."
The line is better now than it was at midseason. The Bears will start the same combination for the 16th game, putting them with the Eagles and Redskins as the only teams to keep their lines intact for the entire schedule. If Cutler is going to lead the Bears to the postseason, he's going to need the supporting cast to help and it starts in the trenches.
Bounce back material
Getting blown out by 40 points is a rarity in the NFL. The Bears' 54-11 loss last Sunday at Philadelphia is one of only two games this season decided by 40 or more points. The Bengals whipped the Jets, 49-9, in Week 8. It's worth wondering if such lopsided defeats can have a carry-over effect for the loser. Is there a hangover the next week after being pummeled? In the last 10 seasons, that doesn't appear to be the case. Since 2004, there have been 25 other games that have been 40-point blowouts or worse. The loser has a 13-12 record in its next game and the Jets bounced back from their bad loss to beat the Saints this season.
The Bears hoped to get a look at wide receiver Chris Williams in October when a Canadian court ruled he could get out of playing for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. A workout was scheduled with the Bears, according to an NFL source, but the Saints managed to sign him to their practice squad before he could make it to Halas Hall. The Bears finally landed him, signing him away from the Saints to their 53-man roster on Thursday. Williams is a dynamic receiver with great speed at 5-feet-8, 175 pounds. He scored a Hamilton record 17 touchdowns last season and six of them were returns, a CFL record. In 2011, he was the CFL rookie of the year. He will get a look as a vertical threat and can be an addition in the return game.
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