Chicago Bears: Miami Dolphins

NFLN says: 3-0 Super Bowl contenders?

September, 25, 2013
Smith, Cutler & BreesGetty ImagesAlex Smith, Jay Cutler and Drew Brees have led their teams to a 3-0 start.
The danger in getting excited about a 3-0 start is that pesky little thing known as "The Other Thirteen Games." Victories in the first three weeks can lead to a 15-1 season, as they did for the Green Bay Packers in 2011. Or they could mean a 2-11 finish and a fired coaching staff, as the Arizona Cardinals found out last year.

So let's keep our wits as we analyze the seven teams that have started this season 3-0. It has been four years since that many teams were still perfect after three weeks. The 2009 season offers another lesson in early conclusions: One of the seven (the New Orleans Saints) won the Super Bowl but two finished 8-8 and missed the playoffs altogether (the New York Giants and Denver Broncos).

So who is this year's version of the 2009 Saints? Are there any candidates to emulate the 2012 Cardinals? NFL Nation has some thoughts.

If there is anything to glean from the first three weeks of this season, it's the emergence of two early powerhouses. The Seattle Seahawks and the Broncos have outscored opponents by a combined 213-98, and their individual point differentials of 59 and 56, respectively, are by far the best in the NFL. (The next best is the Kansas City Chiefs at 37).

The Seahawks' path to Super Bowl XLVIII seems clear: Clinch home-field advantage at CenturyLink Field, where they have won 10 consecutive games, and book their ticket to New York. The Broncos, meanwhile, have scored the second-most points through three games in NFL history and only figure to improve as defensive stalwarts Von Miller (suspension) and Champ Bailey (injury) return to the lineup.

What about the rest?

Has Andy Reid built an instant Super Bowl contender in Kansas City, or will his Chiefs level off? Has Ryan Tannehill really developed into a championship-caliber quarterback for the Miami Dolphins?

Are the Chicago Bears for real after two fourth-quarterback comebacks followed by two defensive touchdowns in their victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers? The New England Patriots are fortunate to be 3-0, right? And has Sean Payton restored the Saints' magic? Let's take the pulse of NFL Nation.

Which 3-0 teams are legitimate Super Bowl contenders?

The Saints should definitely be considered as legitimate Super Bowl contenders, based on their offensive track record under coach Sean Payton and quarterback Drew Brees. Not only did they win the Super Bowl in 2009, but their offense was even better in 2011, when they finished 13-3 and set the NFL record for yards gained in a season (7,474). I don't expect an exact repeat this year, but I think that's closer to the norm than last year's 7-9 season.

Especially with tight end Jimmy Graham healthy again and back to being one of the most difficult matchups in the league. Clearly, however, the Saints need to improve a run game that has been practically non-existent to keep defenses honest and keep Brees upright.

Meanwhile, the Saints' young defense has been one of the biggest surprises in the NFL this year under new coordinator Rob Ryan. I still expect a few growing pains before the season is over. But they don't need to be dominant for the Saints to succeed. And I think they can continue to come up big in some big moments. Players are clearly responding to Ryan's energetic approach and versatile schemes. And they have some bona fide talent to work with in every unit -- including emerging young pass-rushers Cameron Jordan and Junior Galette. That was the biggest question mark heading into this season. If the defense can keep playing anywhere near this level, the Saints could run away with the NFC South title.

The undefeated Miami Dolphins are arguably the biggest surprise in the NFL.

But can the Dolphins be serious Super Bowl contenders? Let's temper those expectations. The Dolphins absolutely have playoff potential. This is a franchise that hasn't made the postseason since 2008. Ending that streak and having a winning season should be Miami's primary goals.

A 3-0 start is terrific, especially after beating the talented Indianapolis Colts and Atlanta Falcons in back-to-back weeks. But the Dolphins certainly have holes.

Depth is an issue in several areas and will be tested. Miami could be without several defensive starters -- defensive end Cameron Wake (knee), defensive tackle Paul Soliai (knee) and cornerback Dimitri Patterson (groin) -- against the New Orleans Saints on "Monday Night Football." The Dolphins also face issues such as pass protection (14 sacks allowed) and having the 28th-ranked rushing attack.

In addition to the undefeated Saints, Miami has tough games against the defending champion Baltimore Ravens (2-1), New England Patriots (3-0) and Cincinnati Bengals (2-1) before the end of October. The Dolphins cannot rest on their early success. They must continue to improve.

The health and production of second-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill is the biggest key. However, the Dolphins have a lot to prove over the course of 16 games.

Miami has a perfect record, but it's far from perfect.

Judging strictly from the numbers, the Kansas City Chiefs are legitimate Super Bowl contenders. They are No. 1 in the AFC in scoring defense, No. 2 in the conference in scoring differential and, most importantly, tied for first place with a 3-0 record.

But it's another number, one that will be impossible to sustain, that's feeding the Chiefs' success and threatens to reveal them as pretenders once it begins its inevitable correction.

The Chiefs are leading the league in turnover differential at plus-9. They are one of two NFL teams yet to commit a turnover. That's a statistic capable of making a good team look great as long as it lasts. The trouble is, it never does last, at least not at this rate. Once their turnover differential starts to balance out, here is the advantage the Chiefs will lose:

The Chiefs have started 10 possessions on their opponents' end of the field. Their opponents have started one in Kansas City's territory, and even that drive began at the Chiefs' 49.

Such consistently favorable field position can make life easy for a team, and credit to the Chiefs for enjoying the ride while it lasts.

It won't forever. When it ends, the Chiefs will have to make their own way.

Their defense looks capable of doing that, but their offense needs a boost. When it doesn't get one, the Chiefs will suddenly look mortal.

This 3-0 team is better than the Bears squad from 2012, which started 7-1, and is a legitimate Super Bowl contender for a variety of reasons. The Bears have already scored three defensive touchdowns, but the major difference is the club is getting contributions from both sides of the ball and special teams.

Chicago provided evidence of that with quarterback Jay Cutler engineering back-to-back, come-from-behind victories over Cincinnati and Minnesota to start the season, before coming through in the clutch on the road Sunday, bailing out a struggling defense to clinch a victory against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The Bears racked up nine defensive touchdowns last season, which tied for the second most in NFL history. But at this juncture last year, the unit had only one score, yet basically carried the entire team through its impressive first half.

Through the 7-1 start in 2012, skepticism existed because the Bears simply hadn't played good teams. This year, the combined record of the teams first three opponents is 2-7. But don't be fooled, this is a better Bears team.

Cutler is one of the main reasons for that. He's matured. He's accepted the coaching. He's putting in more time to sharpen his craft, while shedding the enigmatic gunslinger persona for a more controlled approach. His protection is better. The front office has surrounded him with more weapons and an offensive-minded coach in Marc Trestman, who is the architect of a system Cutler believes in.

If there has been one constant of Bill Belichick-coached Patriots teams since 2000, it's that they usually get better as the season progresses. Surely, there have been exceptions (2009 comes to mind), but there are no indications this year's team is headed down that path at this point.

The defense has exceeded expectations through three games, although a lingering question is how much of the unit's success is a result of playing weaker competition. Sunday night's game on the road, against the fast-starting Atlanta Falcons, should tell us more about the unit. And while the offense has struggled to find its groove, the return of tight end Rob Gronkowski should provide a boost and with Danny Amendola saying he envisions being 100 percent shortly, big-time reinforcements are on the way.

So if you're judging on the present picture, it's understandable that one would say this team isn't a Super Bowl contender. In a game against the Denver Broncos, right now, you would have to pick the Broncos. But this is about projecting what the Patriots could be, and at this point, there's no reason to think they won't evolve as past Belichick teams have. Many of those clubs have been Super Bowl contenders. 

Sources: Bears acquire Marshall for picks

March, 13, 2012
The Miami Dolphins have traded receiver Brandon Marshall to the Chicago Bears for two third-round picks, according to league sources.

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Cutler: Vick vs. Bears' D is intriguing

November, 19, 2010
Jay CutlerMark J. Rebilas/US PresswireJay Cutler said his offensive line is playing much better lately.
One day after leading the Chicago Bears past the Miami Dolphins, Jay Cutler set his sights Friday on Michael Vick, who leads the Philadelphia Eagles to Soldier Field on Nov. 28.

"Michael is playing unbelievable right now," Cutler said on "The Waddle & Silvy Show" on ESPN 1000. "He's making real good decisions in the passing game, tucking it and running it whenever he gets an opportunity. Not really forcing stuff.

"It's going to be a good matchup with our defense, the way our defense swarms to the ball we're going to try to contain him."

The Eagles' defense also might have to think about containing the quarterback, because Cutler's mobility has become a weapon for the Bears. And offensive coordinator Mike Martz, who's in his first year with Cutler and the Bears, is becoming more flexible.

"I've been doing it since high school, obviously with [Mike Shanahan] in Denver," Cutler said. "That was one of his staples.

"It's a little new to Mike. He's never really done that. He's never really called it. In the heat of the battle of a game, that doesn't click with him to dial those up. But he's learning real quickly. He's definitely incorporating those, putting emphasis on that to get me out of the pocket and call some plays that way."

Cutler said the offense is trying to ease the burden on the defense.

"It's a whole team thing," Cutler said. "And if [the defense] going to go up there and play like that, we can try to run the ball, we can control the clock a little bit, and help those guys out. Because we don't want them on the field the whole game. And the offensive line is playing better."

As far as skeptics who don't believe in the Bears' 7-3 record yet, Cutler does not sound concerned.

"Seven-and-three is 7-3," he said. "We're going to take them any way we can.

"It's hard to win in the NFL. Each week is a challenge and struggle, especially a Thursday night game like that. Luckily for us, the defense has played unbelievable for 10 games. They really carried us. And offensively we're headed in the right direction, figuring things out."

Cutler riled Marshall into penalty

November, 19, 2010
Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler knew what buttons to push Thursday night against the Miami Dolphins, and he began pushing them before the game.

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Peppers breaks out against Dolphins

November, 19, 2010

MIAMI -- Strange as it may sound, Julius Peppers doesn't worry much about sacks.

"It's still overrated, it's still overrated," Peppers said Thursday night. "It's nice to get a couple [sacks] in a game, but it's even nicer to have that goose-egg out there and get the win with it."

Although the Bears believe Peppers has played well the entire season, the star defensive end came into the Dolphins game with only two sacks on the season. A far cry from the player who recorded six double-digit sack totals in eight years in Carolina.

Peppers, however, eased any concerns by sacking Dolphins quarterback Tyler Thigpen three times in the Bears' 16-0 victory at Sun Life Stadium

This marked the eighth three-sack game in Peppers career, the last time being Nov. 9, 2008 against the Oakland Raiders.

"I feel like I'm doing my part. I feel like I'm helping the cause," Peppers said. "Like I said, this team had great players on it before I got here, so I'm happy with how we are doing. It seems like we are finally gelling and hopefully will continue to get better as the season goes. We're playing together, playing as a team. We are all carrying out our assignments and executing. We count on each other and trust each other. When you do that, it's hard to move the ball on us and score points."

The Bears' prized free-agent acquisition also deflected a Thigpen pass that ended up in the arms of cornerback Charles Tillman and finished the game with three additional quarterback hits.

"You know Peppers is going to get double-teamed and allow other guys on the defensive line to make plays," Bears safety Danieal Manning said. "When he gets singled, you know that ball is coming out quick, so that helps the guys on the back end of the defense. Look, he doesn't just sack the quarterback, he also deflects passes like the one tonight that Tillman caught. Having Peppers really works to our advantage."

"He's such a presence, that some of the stuff he ends up getting done for the rest of the defensive line, it's almost as good as getting the quarterback down," Bears linebacker Nick Roach said.

Perhaps the greatest single benefactor of Peppers' arrival in Chicago is fellow defensive end Israel Idonije. The seven-year veteran entered the season with eight career regular season sacks, but leads the team with five sacks, thanks in large part to one-on-one matchups caused by opponents being forced to double-team Peppers.

"The guy shows night in and night out why he's such an incredible player," Idonije said. "Any night he can take over and they have to throw the entire house at him just to manage him a little bit.

"In this game tonight, he was physically dominant. "

Is best yet to come for Bears' offense?

November, 19, 2010
MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- The monster-play prospects of Mike Martz's offense conjured highlight-reel daydreams among some of Chicago's skill players when the coach arrived at Halas Hall.

Yet what's produced on the field doesn't exactly scream Greatest Show on Turf. For now, the Just Good Enough Show Anywhere will do for the Bears, who won their third consecutive game on Thursday night with a 16-0 shutout of the Miami Dolphins.

Read the entire story.

Video: Forte on Bears' win

November, 18, 2010

Rachel Nichols discusses the Bears' 16-0 victory over the Dolphins with Matt Forte.

Rapid Reaction: Bears 16, Dolphins 0

November, 18, 2010

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- Chicago turned a short week of preparation into a defensive shutout of a depleted team Thursday night in a 16-0 victory over the Miami Dolphins.

Here are a few quick thoughts from the Bears’ third straight victory and their first shutout in 63 games:

What it means: Like Green Bay, the Bears are also on a three-game winning streak. But the difference is the Bears continue to lead an NFC North race that currently comes down to just two teams. Chicago’s victory over the Dolphins raises the stakes for the Packers, who face division-rival Minnesota on Sunday, needing to keep pace with the Bears.

Sackfest: Led by Julius Peppers, the Bears racked up a season-high six sacks Thursday night against a depleted Dolphins offensive line competing with a backup quarterback in third-stringer Tyler Thigpen.

Peppers finished with three sacks, while Israel Idonije, Brian Urlacher, and Henry Melton registered one sack apiece.

Playing with an injured shoulder, Miami left tackle Jake Long surprisingly held his own for a half against Peppers, who seemed poised to have a breakout performance against the Dolphins. Peppers registered his first sack since Oct. 3, while boosting his season total to five sacks. Peppers dropped Thigpen for a 1-yard loss with 1:25 left in the first half, in addition to batting down a pass. Two of Peppers’ sacks came in the first half, and he tacked on another sack in the fourth quarter.

Miami’s offensive line, meanwhile, became further depleted in the first quarter when backup center Cory Procter -- subbing for starter Joe Berger -- left the game with a knee injury. The Dolphins slid over guard Richie Incognito to fill in for Procter.

About time: Running back Matt Forte produced his first 100-yard performance since Oct. 10 at Carolina, but there’s still quite a bit of catching up to do, considering Forte has reached the century mark just twice all season.

Melton contributing: Considered almost an afterthought in the club’s plans on defense headed into the season, Melton seems to be making some meaningful contributions in the defensive line rotation, and registered his second sack in two outings Thursday night.

A second-year player, Melton has contributed at least two tackles in four of his past five games, and has been on the active roster every week. As a rookie last year, Melton was placed on the injured reserve before the regular season even started.

Law of threes: The Dolphins had their third center (Richie Incognito) hiking the ball to the No. 3 quarterback (Thigpen). The Bears, meanwhile, seemed able to score solely in increments of three, taking a 9-0 lead in the third quarter on three field goals from Robbie Gould.

Taking it further, three different players -- Melton, Peppers, and Idonije -- were responsible for the Bears’ first three sacks, which also occurred within the first three quarters. The club didn’t post another sack until the fourth quarter.

What’s next: A week from Sunday the Bears host a potent Philadelphia Eagles squad that stomped the Washington Redskins on Monday Night Football behind a phenomenal effort by quarterback Michael Vick. Chicago’s defense has been consistent all season, but it faces by far its biggest test in containing a red-hot Vick.

Marshall aggravates hamstring injury

November, 18, 2010
MIAMI -- Brandon Marshall has left the Miami Dolphins' game against Chicago after aggravating a right hamstring injury.

Read the entire story.

Third-quarter wrap: Bears 16, Dolphins 0

November, 18, 2010
Greg OlsenSteve Mitchell/US PresswireDolphins linebacker Karlos Dansby tackles Bears tight end Greg Olsen during the third quarter.
MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- The Chicago Bears own a 14-2 record over the last three years when they lead at halftime.

So it comes as no surprise the club continued to build on its 6-0 halftime lead with its first touchdown of the night -- a Matt Forte 2-yard run -- and Robbie Gould’s 50-yard field goal as the Bears seized a 16-0 advantage at the end of three quarters.

Forte’s run capped a 13-play drive, spanning 60 yards. More importantly, the Bears siphoned away seven minutes and 26 seconds of the quarter -- nearly half of it -- with a steady dose of the running game led by Forte and augmented by Chester Taylor. The Bears dominated time of possession so thoroughly that by the end of the quarter, the club had maintained possession for nearly 30 minutes (29:50) -- which accounts for nearly half of a 60-minute game -- in just three quarters.

The Bears marched down the field to open the second half, scoring in seven plays off Gould’s third field goal of the night with 11:43 left in the quarter.

By the end of the quarter, Forte had run 19 times for 95 yards and a TD, and appears to be on pace for his first 100-yard performance since Oct. 10 at Carolina. So far, Forte has posted only one 100-yard rushing day all season.

Second-quarter wrap: Bears 6, Dolphins 0

November, 18, 2010
Charles TillmanSteve Mitchell/US PresswireCharles Tillman celebrates his interception of the Dolphins' Tyler Thigpen in the second quarter.
MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- The Chicago Bears did everything right in the first half except score points.

Despite outgaining the Miami Dolphins 154-93 in total yards and controlling the football for over 19 minutes, the Bears only lead the Dolphins 6-0 at the half thanks to a pair of Robbie Gould field goals (47 and 24 yards).

Bears quarterback Jay Cutler was nearly flawless until he tossed a key interception late in the half that killed a potential scoring chance. Cutler badly underthrew intended receiver Johnny Knox, and the ball was picked off by Miami's Benny Sapp.

On defense, the Bears limited the Dolphins to a few medium-length completions, but star receiver Brandon Marshall left the game with a hamstring injury in the second quarter and is questionable to return. Marshall caught three passes in the half, but also committed a costly personal foul when he threw the football at Cutler, his former teammate in Denver, after a first down completion.

The Bears forced one turnover when Charles Tillman intercepted a deflected pass.

Miami also lost center Cory Proctor to a knee injury.

First-quarter wrap: Bears 3, Dolphins 0

November, 18, 2010
Jay CutlerMark J. Rebilas/US PresswireJay Cutler nearly lost a fumble that could have proved costly in the first quarter.
MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- The Chicago Bears finished the first quarter fortunate to lead the Miami Dolphins 3-0, but the club squandered a golden opportunity for a touchdown because of ineffective protection along the offensive line.

As the quarter closed, however, the Bears moved close to striking distance and held possession at the Miami 25.

Taking possession at their own 39, after a 24-yard punt return by Devin Hester in the opening quarter, Chicago drove to the Miami 21, where the Bears faced third and 5. As Jay Cutler dropped back to pass, rookie right tackle J'Marcus Webb whiffed on his attempt to block Dolphins outside linebacker Cameron Wake.

Wake unloaded on Cutler for the sack, which caused a fumble that was recovered by left tackle Chris Williams. The 9-yard loss resulted in Chicago settling for a 46-yard field goal from Robbie Gould with 4:27 left in the first quarter to give the Bears a 3-0 edge.

Bears' Bowman active for Dolphins

November, 18, 2010
MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- Chicago Bears cornerback Zack Bowman is active for Thursday's night game against the Miami Dolphins for the first time since suffering a sprained right foot against the Seattle Seahawks on Oct. 17.

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Nuts & Bolts: Bears-Dolphins

November, 18, 2010
MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- Kickoff for Bears-Dolphins quickly approaches, but we figured we couldn’t let you guys go into the game without the weekly nuts and bolts associated with this outing.

Besides that we’ve gotten a little more insight into the Dolphins and how they’ll match up with the Bears. So here goes:


1. Mix it up on Brandon Marshall: The Bears came out in their nickel defense on several occasions against the Vikings in what seemed to be inopportune times, but the tactic worked well. So against the Dolphins playmaking trio of Marshall, Davone Bess, and Brian Hartline the Bears may need to utilize that look even more. It’s likely that quarterback Tyler Thigpen will lean on Marshall to bail him out of difficult situations, which means this outing should provide nickel back D.J. Moore some opportunities to build on his team high in interceptions. Moore’s best shot of doing that, however, hinges on the way the club defends Marshall schematically. The Bears need to deploy a variety of methods (double teams, zones, even some man every now and then) to confuse Marshall and Thigpen.

[+] EnlargeTyler Thigpen
AP Photo/Rhona WiseTyler Thigpen's ability to extend plays because of his mobility excites some of his Dolphins teammates.
2. Don’t fix what’s not broken: Since the Nov. 7 victory against the Buffalo Bills, the Bears haven’t tweaked the formula on offense. They shouldn’t do it tonight, either. Offensive coordinator Mike Martz has called a nice mixture of runs and passes, with a few exotic looks sprinkled in here and there. But Martz doesn’t need to make any radical changes against the Dolphins for the Bears to continue their success on offense. Running backs Matt Forte and Chester Taylor, however, need to be more productive when their opportunities arise. If the duo can reach close to 4 yards per carry against the Dolphins, you can pretty much count on a Bears victory.

3. Don’t be let Thigpen surprise you: Interestingly, some of Miami’s players actually believe Tyler Thigpen gives the Dolphins their best chance to win because of the quarterback’s strong arm and ability to extend plays, which wind up causing coverage to break down in the secondary. Given the limited preparation time for this week’s contest, it’s unclear how much the Bears have studied Thigpen. But they can’t get rattled early on by any big plays the quarterback may make, and drastically alter the defense, which could lead to even more problems.


1. Prevent a Peppers explosion: Don’t think for a second that Julius Peppers doesn’t view tonight’s matchup as his chance for a breakout opponent. He’s got just two sacks on the season, and is playing on national television against injured left tackle Jake Long. So the recipe for a big game by Peppers exists. Miami needs to make sure it never transpires. The best way to do that is to help out on Peppers with running backs and tight ends chipping. But Miami also needs to be mindful of Israel Idonije -- Chicago's leader in sacks -- on the other side. With starting center Joe Berger out, it becomes even more important for backup Cory Procter to effectively communicate Miami’s protections to the rest of the line.

2. Confuse Cutler: Bears quarterback Jay Cutler has shown a penchant for being somewhat erratic in night games. So why not make things even more difficult by confusing him with a mixture of pressure and coverages? Corners Vontae Davis and Sean Smith should be able to hold their own against Chicago’s pedestrian group of wideouts in man coverage, which means the Dolphins could have plenty of time to get to Cutler on the blitz. By mixing up things in coverage, Miami should also be able to confuse the Bears’ young receivers. Cutler has already misfired several times this season because of miscommunication with his receivers.

[+] Enlarge
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesDevin Hester flashed his dangerous return skills against Minnesota, gaining 147 special-teams yards.
3. Keep it away from Hester: Bears return man Devin Hester wants to break the record for touchdowns on returns tonight in his home state in front of friends and family. Don’t let him. Miami can prevent a big night from Hester by simply kicking the ball away from him. Dolphins coach Tony Sparano didn’t give an indication as to what his team’s plans are for defending Hester. But too many times this season, Chicago’s opponents stubbornly kicked to Hester only to be burned. Chicago’s special teams unit is one of the few in the league that can actually change games. It’s tough enough to score victories with the offensive and defensive phases of the game. So why give the Bears an easy win in the third phase by kicking to Hester?

MATCHUP TO WATCH: Peppers vs. Long
Miami left tackle Long plans to play tonight, and while that’s a courageous move, it might be unwise considering the severity of his injured shoulder and his pending match up against Peppers.

Peppers likely views tonight as a potential breakout game for him on national television, so Long is sure to get the defensive end’s best effort. Occasionally, teams have successfully left tackles in one-on-one situations against Peppers. But that’s probably not the way to go in this matchup, especially when factoring in Miami’s injury situation at quarterback.

Peppers typically utilizes a variety of pass-rushing moves against offensive tackles, but knowing Long’s injury situation, the defensive end will attack him with more bull rushes and try to wear him down as the game progresses.


22: Age of Josh Moore, the youngest player on Chicago’s roster.

24: Games in which Ricky Williams has rushed for 100 yards or more, which is a Dolphins franchise record.

13: Total returns for touchdowns by Devin Hester (9 punt return TDs, 4 kickoff return TDs).

60.7: Cutler’s passer rating in his only game against the Dolphins. Cutler also threw for two touchdowns and three interceptions in that outing.

Bears-Dolphins chat Live!

November, 18, 2010