Print and Go Back ESPN.com: BlogsColumns [Print without images]

Wednesday, January 5, 2011
Updated: January 10, 11:32 AM ET
No need to worry about Cutler

By Melissa Isaacson
ESPNChicago.com

Sure, it would be nice if Jay Cutler would break form, look somewhere in the vicinity of his questioner with something less than a mixture of contempt and disinterest, and assure us that while competing in his first playoff game is a personal thrill, he is confident he can do the job.

In essence, Wednesday, that's what he did. He just did it Cutler-style.

"Right now I'm just getting ready to play another game," he said.

And that is why Bears fans should not worry about him. Worry about the offensive line continuing to protect him. Worry about the receivers running good routes and getting separation. Worry about Mike Martz forgetting what turned the season around and remembering his ego.

Jay Cutler
Jay Cutler will be making his playoff debut a week from Sunday.
But don't worry about the guy who does not rattle and whose personality does not seem to change.

Do not mistake Cutler's on-field demeanor, which often looks as though he is more annoyed with his teammates than anything else, with being rattled or erratic. It definitely seemed counter-productive last season in his first games with the Bears, when his body language and facial expressions reflected that of someone immature and self-destructive.

He may be immature and, yes, self-destructive at times, but his development under Martz has also revealed a player whose talent, when harnessed and directed in the proper way and with suitable support, rises well beyond any behavioral quirks.

At his best, and we've seen it enough now to know it isn't a fluke, Cutler has proven that it doesn't matter if he is wearing a sneer as big as a Jumbotron, a good quarterback is a good quarterback.

"Jay's one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL," said Bears' center Olin Kreutz, who is not one to throw around false superlatives. "He'll be ready to go. ... We fully believe in him."

They don't have to love him but they do have to believe in him. And for the first time in a long time, the Bears have a quarterback capable of the standard by which all great ones are measured -- leading a Super Bowl champion.

It would take a level of consistency that Cutler has yet to find  though he's come close  to lead the Bears on a deep playoff run. The Bears defense is good, but you don't want to test it with multiple interceptions, fumbles, another pick-six.

"It's the biggest statistic that can cost you a football game and I think Jay is well-aware of that," said Jim Miller, the former Bears quarterback who is now a Comcast SportsNet analyst.

Does Cutler need to get rid of the ball faster than he did against Green Bay?

Absolutely. But more than that, his receivers need to get open, particularly against either an Eagles' or Seahawks' team that each rank in the bottom third of the league in scoring defense.

Martz said he does not intend to talk to Jay about what to expect in the playoffs.

"I've always felt that was unnecessary," he said. "Kurt [Warner] went through that. Obviously, it was his first time. They know. He's been around. If he was a rookie or something like that ... [but] he knows. He's been in some big games this year. Playoff-atmosphere games. We just talk about managing the game like we do every week with him."

Brian Urlacher scoffed at the notion that the Packers' game had playoff atmosphere, but Kreutz had a different view.

"If the young guys wanted to know what it's going to be like, that's what it's going to be like," Kreutz said. "They were playing for their lives, so they were flying around. We watched the film [and] their defensive coordinator threw everything he had at us. Every blitz he had in his book came at us in the second half. And that's the kind of experience we couldn't have gotten by just practicing last week. ... It was a good experience for us, and hopefully we can learn from it."

Hopefully they can also learn from Sunday's odd departure from a balanced run-pass ratio that breathed life into the Bears' offense following the bye. Matt Forte's outstanding second half of the season (he had 961 yards from scrimmage in the Bears' last nine games) bodes well.

"The Bears have to be concerned with who they are offensively," said ESPN analyst Herm Edwards. "To me, that's the key. Defensively they can hold up if their offense plays with balance and doesn't put the ball in their opponents' hands."

As for playoff experience?

"What a lot of young guys don't realize," Edwards said, "is that there's no guarantee you're coming back. ... The little things that maybe you get away with [in the regular season], you won't win those games in the playoffs."

In his fifth year, Cutler may be a playoff virgin but he will not go in scared or unprepared.

"It's hard, it's very hard," he said of getting to the postseason. "And to get a bye in the playoffs is even harder. Some guys go to the playoffs every year; some guys never make the playoffs. I've got an understanding [of] how hard it actually is. ... Been close a few times. But it's been a fun ride so far on this team."

A ride you know he doesn't want to get off.

Melissa Isaacson is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.