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SportsMonday: Cutler Flinched

The biggest worry a Bear fan has in the aftermath of Sunday's season-opening 23-20 overtime loss to the Bills is Jay Cutler's discomfort in the pocket. Maybe a few old-time Bears fans are primarily concerned with the run defense first, but most of us are zeroed in on the QB.

Early on Sunday, Cutler was almost perfect. Can you remember back, back to when the game was young and hope was springing all over the place, back when Cutler threw that glorious long ball to Alshon Jeffery to put the Bears in the red zone and then hit Martellus Bennett a little up the seam for a touchdown as quick as could be?

Cutler was about as good as can be in the first quarter, but in the second nervousness in the pocket began to rear its ugly head. Cutler was concerned about the rush right before launching his ill-advised pass to Bennett that turned into the first interception. Sure, if Bennett had looked back for the ball at the time when you would expect a receiver to look back for the ball, he could have at least contested the pick.

But it also looked like Bennett was neither the first, second nor fourth receiving option on that play. It looked like his job was to go hard, straight up the field from the slot, clearing a zone for other receivers to possibly make catches underneath. In other words, there was blame to go around on that one. And it happened before the Bear receivers started suffering injuries right and left.

Eventually there were the several second-half occasions when you could see Cutler flinch when he thought he sensed pressure. And at least twice he did so when there was quite simply nothing to flinch at. Overall, the Bear line did a fine job of protecting the passer - despite losing key components guard Matt Slauson and center Roberto Garza to injury less than halfway into the game.

This all climaxed in that brutal second half interception that a jittery Cutler threw back across his body to defensive TACKLE Kyle Williams (who we were quickly told had never before had a pick during his nine-year NFL career).

And of course at the end you had that "What on God's green earth was that?" throw from Cutler right to a Seattle defensive back at the end of the Bears' only overtime possession. The Bears caught a huge break when what should have been an easy interception and an easy return into field-goal range was dropped.

At least he wasn't imagining pressure on that play; there was plenty of real pressure. But it was a throw he never should have made in a million years. The final word at this point about Cutler's agitation is that it is at least partly his team's fault. Just about anyone would be edgy when his team had failed to protect him properly during his first several years on the job.

But the protection was much better last year and it was much better for the majority of Sunday's game. If Cutler can't start to settle in more, or at least, finally learn to just throw the ball away when things get sketchy rather than trying to force throws that should never leave his hand, it is going to be a long season.

Defensive Lowlights
Which was your favorite? Was it Lance Briggs inexplicably going for the fake quarterback keeper and vacating a hole with the Bills backed up in their own territory, allowing Anthony Dixon to bust out for about 50 yards?

Was it linebacker Shea McClellin delivering his one hit of note - on teammate Charles Tillman as they both tried to tackle the same ball carrier in the second half?

Or was it everyone in the universe knowing the Bills were going to run the ball when they were right on the cusp of field-goal range toward the end of their overtime possession and the Bears still allowing a gaping hole and a Fred Jackson run inside the five-yard line?

There was one actual defensive highlight: Chris Conte's impressive interception. He did what Bear fans have been imploring Bear defensive backs to do since the start of the Lovie Smith era. He was playing zone but after a few seconds, he zeroed in on an open receiver and raced forward to cover him rather than worrying about staying back to cover for other defensive backs.

And he got there just in time to make what could have been a pivotal pick. Too bad his quarterback couldn't take advantage.

Same Old Jay
"'You guys are going to be as negative as possible,' a surly Cutler said. 'But we've got a lot of games left, we did a lot of good things. Obviously we made mistakes today and we've got to clean them up and got to keep it going.'"

Chris Conte Watch
* Conte Defends His Play On Fred Jackson's Big Run.

* Fred Jackson's Stiff-Arm Against Conte Has Bills Players, Coaches Talking.

Coffman Radio
Tune in to WBEZ today from 2:20 p.m. to 2:45 p.m. for more Coffman on the Bears.


Jim "Coach" Coffman is our man on Mondays. He welcomes your comments.

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