Jay Cutler well-armed for success
Stocked with rushers and receivers, Bears balanced for steady offense
CHICAGO -- The last time the Washington Redskins came to Soldier Field to face the Chicago Bears, in 2010, Jay Cutler was accused of being selfish for appearing to be following his own agenda in throwing four interceptions to the same player.
It was still October in Mike Martz's first season as Bears offensive coordinator, but Martz was already solidifying a reputation for being self-absorbed as well, as the Bears run-pass ratio in that loss to Washington was a whopping 16-to-40.
"I ain't seen picks like that since 'Madden' and you're playing your little brother or something," offered a helpful D.J. Moore that day.
There was some speculation Saturday night as the Redskins returned for a preseason contest that the sight of Skins cornerback DeAngelo Hall might trigger in Cutler an irresistible urge to go right at him in some weird quest for revenge.
But that was a long time ago. This is a different Jay Cutler, with a different offensive coordinator and a different Bears team around him. And while it isn't likely that he will see another 40-to-16 day under new offensive coordinator Mike Tice, Cutler and his new receivers showed the first glimpse of a passing offense that will be able to stand up to the better defensive backs while finally taking its place in a new NFL that isn't all that new anymore.
Looking like he was executing a routine handoff, Cutler dropped back on the Bears' first offensive snap Saturday night, and lofted a 41-yard pass down the right sideline to Brandon Marshall, who just as effortlessly snared the slightly underthrown attempt having soundly beaten Washington corner Cedric Griffin downfield.
Cutler connected with Marshall again on a 17-yard third-down pass, followed by a 16-yarder to rookie Alshon Jeffery. That left Michael Bush the relatively easy assignment of scampering in from one yard for the touchdown on a long night that ended with Robbie Gould kicking a game-winning 57-yard field goal with 31 seconds remaining in a 33-31 Bears victory.
"It's fun to get back out there. You just want to be better than the first game," Cutler said, referring to the Bears' 31-3 loss to the Denver Broncos in their first preseason game, a game in which neither Cutler nor Matt Forte played on offense, and Brian Urlacher and Julius Peppers were missing on defense.
Cutler has become a father since he last took the field, and while it was impossible to tell if that particular miracle has had any physical impact on the quarterback, he did come out eager and enthusiastic, meeting and congratulating his offensive line as they came off the field following the point-after conversion.
"We have a lot of guys who can play football," Cutler said. "You bring in the second-team running back and he's making guys miss in the hole and scoring touchdowns. We have rookie wide receivers out here playing and we have our regular guys, so we have some guys who can play. The offensive [linemen] know it starts with them and if they play well, we'll take care of the rest."
But who's kidding whom? All eyes were on Cutler-Marshall.
"That combination is going to go for a lot of yards, a lot of catches and hopefully a lot of touchdowns," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "If we give them time, we can do some things."
Cutler remained in the game for four series before being replaced by backup Jason Campbell with 6:36 remaining in the first half. The Bears would score again in the first quarter, this time on an 8-yard run by Bush following a forced fumble by Israel Idonije and recovery by Peppers.
And on his last series, Cutler would lead the team on a 9-play, 35-yard drive culminating in a 45-yard field goal by Gould. While he was not always perfectly precise in his passing, Cutler was productive, got the ball out quickly -- an emphasis under Tice -- and perhaps most importantly, had adequate protection from the offensive line and, in particular, left tackle J'Marcus Webb, who spent last week in Tice's ample-sized doghouse and split time more equitably with Chris Williams this week.
"We challenged them all week, we challenged them before the game," Cutler said of the O-line. "Everything starts with them. . . . When they do their jobs, it lets us do our job. That was the biggest difference between last week and this week. They gave us time to let us work."
Cutler would pass for 122 yards on 7-of-13 completions for an 86.1 quarterback rating. Jeffrey had three catches for 62 yards but frustrated coaches with an unnecessary roughness penalty in the first quarter and Marshall had four receptions for 61 yards.
"The most exciting part about tonight was seeing the other guys, not just Jay Cutler or Matt Forte or Brandon Marshall or Devin Hester (two catches for 22 yards), it's other guys and it's going to be tough for defenses to game plan against us," said Marshall, referring also to Eric Weems, who had two catches for 38 yards and two kickoff returns for 71 yards, and Lorenzo Booker, who signed with the Bears last month and returned his only kickoff return 105 yards for a touchdown to open the third quarter.
"[When the offense has a big play] what it does is get the guys on the sideline fired up. ... We talk about it all the time, the defense making a play and we feed off that... We all feed off each other."
It still feels a bit of a hike from all of that, particularly after watching the third- and fourth-string defense muck things up in a 21-point fourth quarter. But this offense can do some things. That much is certain.