Seattle – Jay Cutler’s stat line in his first game as the Chicago Bears’ savior and the team’s first supremely talented quarterback in more than 20 years was enough to bring a collective groan from fans in the Windy City – 17-of-36 for 277 yards, one touchdown and four painful interceptions in a 21-15 season-opening loss at Green Bay.
But the confident Cutler said he took the criticism in stride.
“No one was more disappointed than myself,” Cutler said. “I put more pressure on myself to go out and perform than anyone else is going to in the media or the city or the coaches. I was disappointed. I knew that I was going to play a lot better throughout the year, and I just had to put it behind us.”
Cutler went out the following week against the defending Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers at Soldier Field and did what he does best – perform under pressure.
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Cutler led the Bears to a surprising 17-14 win over the Steelers, quelling some of the doubters who may have felt the team gave up too much to get him. Chicago traded away quarterback Kyle Orton, two first-round selections and a third-round pick in a deal with Denver to secure the services of the talented passer.
Chicago coach Lovie Smith believes Cutler’s performance against Pittsburgh will be the norm, not the exception.
But Smith also understands that Cutler is just another piece, albeit an important piece, in the effort to build success on the field.
“We’re a team here,” Smith said. “It’s more than just one person. Jay realizes that. But guys will have tough games. That’s just a part of being a football player. You move on. That Green Bay game, how long ago was that? Three weeks? Four weeks ago? It’s hard for me to really remember.”
Well, it was only two weeks ago, but Smith’s point is understood. The Bears are not turning into a pass-happy attack with Cutler at the controls.
“We’re going to run the ball downhill,” Cutler said. “We’re going to grind it out, let our defense put us in good positions, and try to take advantage of some situations when we get them. There hasn’t been a lot of change.”
Although they still rely on a run-oriented offense led by running back Matt Forte and a talented, but aging defense to win games, through the first two games Chicago’s offense has struggled, averaging just 2.7 yards a carry on the ground.
Cutler doesn’t have top-tier receivers surrounding him in Chicago to fully capitalize on his talents, as he did with Brandon Marshall and Eddie Royal in Denver. However, Devin Hester and emerging rookie Johnny Knox do have the speed to threaten Seattle’s thin secondary.
With Josh Wilson suffering a high ankle sprain against San Francisco and likely out for at least a month, Kelly Jennings will get the start for Seattle at one corner, while Ken Lucas has a groin strain and is questionable for today’s game.
Defensive lineman Cory Redding, who regularly faced the Bears during his six-year tenure with the Detroit Lions, said it will be important to get pressure on Cutler and force him into making mistakes, as he did against Green Bay.
“It’s just Cutler is back there and he’s getting the ball off faster,” Redding said. “I think he gets the ball off a little faster than Orton, but other than that it’s the same system, same everything.
“The O-line is good, and they’ve been together for a long time. And they’ve been blocking well, and the wide receivers they have are going to do their thing, so it’s all about Cutler and disrupting his timing on getting the ball out.”
Eric D. Williams: 253-597-8437
CHICAGO (1-1) at SEATTLE (1-1)
Kickoff: 1:05 p.m., Qwest Field.
TV: Ch. 13. Radio: 710-AM, 97.3-FM.
The series: The Seahawks lead the series, 7-3. Seattle has won three of the last four games against the Bears.
What to watch: Starting quarterback Matt Hasselbeck suffered a broken rib against San Francisco last week and likely will not play against Chicago, which means backup Seneca Wallace will start. Middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu (hamstring) also is unlikely to play. Second-year player David Hawthorne will start for Tatupu. Offensive tackle Walter Jones (knee) is a game-time decision but could get his first playing time this season. If Jones can’t go, Brandon Frye will start at left tackle. Cornerback Kelly Jennings will start for the first time this season, subbing for Josh Wilson, who suffered a high ankle sprain against San Francisco. Cornerback Ken Lucas (groin) and defensive tackle Brandon Mebane (calf) are questionable. Tacoma native Lawyer Milloy is expected to see more playing time on defense with Seattle thin in the secondary. Center Chris Spencer (quad), wide receiver Deion Branch (hamstring) and cornerback Travis Fisher (hamstring) are expected to see their first action this season.
TNT pick: Seahawks, 20-17.
No. Name (position)Ht./Wt.Year
67 Rob Sims (OG)6-3/312Fourth
With all the offensive line injuries, Seahawks need him to play well.
22 Julius Jones (RB)5-10/208Sixth
Consistent ground game important in keeping the ball away from Cutler.
97 Patrick Kerney (DE)6-5/27211th
Needs to help pick up the slack defensively.
59 Aaron Curry (OLB)6-0/247First
Can’t play like a rookie as he did a week ago.
No. Name (position) Ht./Wt./Year
6 Jay Cutler (QB)6-3/233Fourth
Needs to manage game and not try to do too much.
82 Greg Olson (TE)6-5/255Third
Athletic tight end is Cutler’s security blanket.
92 Hunter Hillenmeyer (LB) 6-4/238Seventh
Big shoes to fill in replacing Brian Urlacher.
96 Alex Brown (DE)6-3/260Eighth
Will try and keep QB Wallace from breaking contain.
Eric D. Williams, The News Tribune