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Tuesday, December 7, 2010
Bill Belichick praises Jay Cutler

By Michael C. Wright
ESPNChicago.com

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady turned up the chorus of voices supporting his candidacy for Most Valuable Player on Monday night by throwing four touchdowns in a 45-3 thumping of the New York Jets.

Meanwhile, Jay Cutler might be in the midst of playing his best football as a Chicago Bear.

The red-hot quarterbacks come together Sunday at Soldier Field for arguably the most hotly-contested game to date for both teams, which combined, are riding a nine-game winning streak.

"Offensively, [Jay] Cutler is playing as well as I've seen him play," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. "He's done a great job with coach [Mike] Martz's offense. He's carrying a lot of the offense on his shoulders, along with their receivers."

Jay Cutler
Jay Cutler accounts for 75.2 percent of the Bears' offense this season.

In the midst of the first five-game winning streak of his career, Cutler has accounted for -- running and passing -- 75.2 percent of the Bears' offense, which ranks 29th in the NFL (300.3 yards per game). He's coming off his second consecutive outing with a passer rating of 100 or better, after generating a career-high 146.2 rating in the club's win over the Eagles.

It's also important to note that of the five instances over his career in which he's posted back-to-back games with passer ratings of 100 or better, Cutler's current stretch is his first without an interception.

"It's starting to get fun for us," Cutler said. "The guys aren't thinking as much. They're just out there playing. Mike [Martz] is coming up with a great game. He's getting a real feel for what we're good at, what we feel comfortable doing. We're clicking. We've just got to keep it going."

Cutler's brief history doesn't suggest he'll maintain his current level of production. Over 64 career starts, Cutler hasn't been able to post passer ratings in the 100s for more than three consecutive outings, and he's only put together a stretch of three-straight games like that once (from Sept. 20 to Oct. 4, 2009) in his career.

Brady, meanwhile, has shredded opponents for passer ratings of 100 or better in five of his past six games, throwing for 1,667 yards, 16 touchdowns, and no interceptions. By comparison, Cutler has thrown for 1,343 yards over his past six games with 11 touchdowns and seven interceptions.

"Offensively, the guys continue to make progress," Bears coach Lovie Smith said on Monday. "Jay Cutler, as I said [Sunday], was outstanding. A lot of times it starts with the quarterback whether it's running the football, [or] throwing the ball to a different target."

The most pronounced difference between the quarterbacks at this point is experience in their respective offenses. An 11-year veteran, Brady has been a full-time starter for the Patriots since 2001, having spent his entire career in the same system. Cutler, meanwhile, is on his second team since joining the NFL and his second offensive system in two years.

That doesn't make him any less dangerous to Belichick, who admitted Tuesday that the Patriots -- because of the short week -- started conducting preliminary work last week to prepare for Cutler and the Bears.

"Cutler's made a lot of plays running as well as throwing," Belichick said. "So he's very dangerous in and out of the pocket, throwing or running. I think the Bears' record really speaks for itself: 9-3. We know it's going to be a big challenge for us on a short week for a team we really don't know very well that has a lot of good players, is well coached, very fundamentally sound, and does a good job in every phase of the game.

"[Tuesday] is going to be a big day for us [to] try and get things organized for the players coming in here [Wednesday], and then turn the corner very quickly and get on to Chicago."

Belichick said the early jump in preparation for the Bears wasn't necessarily out of the ordinary for his team. But given Chicago's success, and the increasing significance of the games this late in the season, it's definitely worth questioning.

"Well we always do that," Belichick said. "We have coaches on our staff that are responsible to break down the film. On Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, we'll have a normal week. But by Friday and Saturday, most all the coaches get those breakdowns and start to do some preliminary work on the scouting report and things like that.

"In this particular case, similar to the Indianapolis-Detroit situation (in which the Patriots had a four-day turnaround between games), we really had to get a bit of a jump on it and start doing some little more game planning, and start finishing up the scouting report prior to the game we're actually playing -- the Monday night game or the Sunday game in the case of Indianapolis a couple of weeks ago. We try to get a jump start on them, but we're still playing catch up because so much of our focus was on the Jets game. But, we got a little bit of a jump start and [now] we're just scrambling, doing the best we can."

Don't think the Bears haven't taken similar measures. Hours before Monday night's game, Smith said that most of the staff would still be at Halas Hall watching the Patriots rout the New York Jets. The coach also downplayed the notion that by watching New England's Monday night matchup the Bears could gain some sort of edge.

"Next team up is New England, and we'll be watching the game getting ready for them," Smith said Monday. "[We're] excited about playing the Patriots here at home this week. No more than that. We realize who we have coming in. Each week, as we continue to win the games, the games will get bigger."

Michael C. Wright covers the Bears for ESPNChicago.com and ESPN 1000.