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LAKE FOREST -- It's not as absurd as it sounds.
Jay Cutler could be Tom Brady.
Of course, every quarterback with a functioning arm who has played during the Brady era has probably had the same thoughts at one time or the other of the 199th pick in 2000 out of Michigan.
"No doubt about it," said Cutler's backup, Caleb Hanie. "Jay has as good a set of tools as anyone in the league, if not the best set of tools. He can run, he's a big guy, he throws the ball extremely well, he's accurate, strong arm and smart guy. He gets the ball out quick.
"Things kind of fell into place perfectly for Tom out in New England."
So what does Cutler have to do to approach the same stratosphere as the certain Hall of Famer?
Stick with Martz: Brady has been in the same offensive system under Bill Belichick his entire 10-year career. Cutler has had three different offensive coordinators the past three seasons.
|Tom Brady is the gold standard of the quarterback position.|
"He's played, what, 10 years or so and I'm, what, 11 games [in]. He's on a different level. I would love to play in this system for the rest of my career. That's the goal. But to make that happen, we've got to win ball games."
Hanie said it's no coincidence that the most successful coordinators in the league have been given the opportunity to master the system.
"Big Ben [Roethlisberger] has been in the same system since he got in," Hanie said. "Peyton [Manning] has been in the same system forever, Tom obviously, Aaron Rodgers has been in his same system for a while. Brett Favre has been in the same system almost his whole career. That's what it takes to be successful. You're viewed as successful by the wins. So obviously they have had great teams at great times [but] the offense has also clicked.
"Jay's arm and mobility and everything, I think, puts him ahead of [Brady] physically. Say Jay is in Martz's offense for 10 years, come talk to me and see where he's at."
Be consistent: Among Brady's best traits as a quarterback is not his arm or his legs but his head -- and his ability to avoid mistakes.
"That's the mark of a good team and good players, being consistent," Cutler said. "And he's been very, very, very consistent throughout his career. He's fun to watch."
Brady currently is riding a streak of seven games without an interception, he has an average quarterback rating of 109.5 and has been above 117 in six games. Cutler, while showing improvement over the past several games, is still prone to throw the ill-advised, off-balance pass into traffic, if not into the arms of a waiting defender.
Brady's career QB rating is 94.7 in 141 games while Cutler is at 85.2 in 64 games. Brady is unflappable, steady in most games, better on the bigger stage.
"[Brady's] poise, his whole demeanor, he's just calm and cool back there," said Bears safety Chris Harris. "He doesn't let much get to him."
|Jay Cutler's physical skills have never been in doubt.|
"When you've been in an offense as long as [Brady] has, you know the ins and outs of every play," Hanie said. "You've seen every look, you've seen every blitz that people can throw at you for the most part and you know where to go with the football.
"We're still working out the kinks in our offense. ... It's going to take a while to know the ins and outs of every single play versus every look because you're not able to get that game-like look at everything. Up to this point, I think [Brady] has seen everything, so he makes it look easy to just be able to stand there and his offensive line protects him really well. Without that, he might be a different guy."
Work on your image: It's not that Brady is above reproach. To the contrary, he has had a child out of wedlock and is not the easiest interview in the world. But he knows how and when to turn on the charm, say reporters who cover him, while Cutler still struggles in that department.
Brady also has a super-model wife, Gisele Bundchen, while Cutler is dating a reality TV star, Kristin Cavallari.
"He's got great hair," conceded Harris. (OK, so he was baited just a little on that question.)
Hope for a better offensive line: Brady has unquestionably been the benefactor of great offensive lines in New England -- great because they have good players and continuity. He had so much time to make a decision against the Jets that he could have also pondered whether to wear his jacket collar up or down in his postgame news conference (he went with up).
Brady has been sacked just 18 times (which ties the Patriots for fourth-best in the league with the Saints) while the Bears are at the bottom with 45 allowed.
A solid offensive line equates to more time to make good decisions and Brady is a master at making the right call.
"He's very smart," Harris said. "He sees what you're in and he knows where he's going with the ball. He knows how to attack different defenses. So if he sees a defense, he probably knows where he's going before the snap. ... Once he finds out what you're in, he can pick you apart."
Be more patient: Not with the ball but with your teammates. While Brady has been blessed with good offensive lines, no one can say he has had the game's best receivers. Other than the Randy Moss years, which came with mixed results, Brady has had loads of ordinary guys such as the undrafted Wes Welker, Jabar Gaffney and even Deion Branch.
Has Brady made his receivers what they are or is it more Belichick? Tough call because Welker's biggest gains, for example, often come after the catch. And certainly Belichick deserves credit. But no one can argue that Brady put them in a good position to make plays.
Poor Cutler is still forced to take satisfaction in Bears' players learning the system.
"The last two, three games have been fun offensively for us because you can really tell the guys are understanding what we're doing," Cutler said. "They're playing fast. They know exactly when they make mistakes. They know exactly whenever we miss opportunities. I think that's the good part about it.
"Guys come back to the huddle and they're aware that we just missed a big one."
It'll be tough to hang his hat on that one for much longer.
Just win, um, baby: Brady has played in four Super Bowls, won three and been named MVP in two. On Oct. 4 of this year, he became the fastest quarterback to lead his team to 100 regular-season victories with the Pats' victory over Miami.
Cutler, while downplaying the achievement of the Bears' 9-3 record, has not had a winning season since high school. In 2008, arguably his best season and his only Pro Bowl appearance, the Broncos under Cutler were 8-5 but lost the last three games, all of which had Cutler's QB ratings in the 70s.
What was that Cutler himself said of Brady, that he's on a "different level"?
Give him points for that.Melissa Isaacson is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.