- Kevin Seifert, NFL Nation
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Sunday represented quarterback Jay Cutler in all his glory. We saw him express anger at the offensive line for an early breakdown and to the sideline for getting a play in too slowly. We saw him stiff-arm and then get penalized for taunting Vikings cornerback A.J. Jefferson on a scramble. But despite that mistake and his overspilled emotion, we saw clear evidence of the calming influence Cutler can have on this team. It's no fluke that he's won 13 of his past 15 starts. Cutler got some good-natured attention for tying left tackle J'Marcus Webb's shoelace in the huddle, but I thought Cutler's importance displayed most clearly in the production and positivity of receiver Brandon Marshall. Cutler clearly knows how to keep this otherwise mercurial player happy. Sunday, he targeted him on more than half of his throws -- 17 of 31. The next most-active Bears receiver saw four passes. Marshall's implicit trust in Cutler as a quarterback and on-field caretaker has been one of the more unusual trends to emerge from the Bears' season.
It was hard not to flash back to the saga of former Bears offensive lineman Chris Williams when Gabe Carimi was forced into emergency duty at right guard. Williams, the Bears' first-round draft pick in 2008, wound up at left guard in 2010 and never played his intended position again. Carimi, the Bears' first-round pick in 2011, was benched this season from the right tackle position. According to Pro Football Focus, Carimi did not allow a pressure in 32 snaps Sunday and blocked well against the run. I don't see Carimi as the Bears' long-term right guard unless Lance Louis' knee injury is more serious than believed. And it's hard to imagine current right tackle Jonathan Scott, a career backup with four teams, as a longer-term answer. But Sunday was an unabashedly positive development for Carimi, who performed functionally in a surprise role one week after a national embarrassment. We haven't heard the last of him, I'm sure.
Let's not just single out Carimi for the improved protection Cutler received. Remember, the Bears played a portion of this game without either of their starting guards, Louis and Chris Spencer. Still, Cutler was sacked or under duress on only five of his 36 dropbacks (13.9 percent). Entering the game, he was sacked on 23 percent of his dropbacks. Vikings defensive ends Jared Allen and Brian Robison entered the game with a combined 12.5 sacks, but each were limited to one quarterback hit. For as much criticism as the Bears' pass protection took after the Monday night disaster against the San Francisco 49ers, they deserve praise for plugging the holes quickly.
And here is one issue I still don't get:
Five starters suffered injuries that required them to miss the rest of the game. But are any of them serious? We don't know yet, and coach Lovie Smith didn't offer much insight during his Monday meeting with reporters. Tailback Matt Forte (ankle) appeared to be limping significantly as he departed the field, and Louis' knee surely bent at an awkward angle when Allen blindsided him on an interception return. The biggest loss would probably be cornerback Charles Tillman (ankle), but indications Sunday were that Tillman was held out mostly for precautionary reasons.