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If ever a fan sought to divine the difference between an elite quarterback and the mediocre majority in a relatively brief period of time, he or she could review the video record of the Bears' last two games.
More than anything, the difference is pinpoint passing. Right off the bat on Sunday during the Bears' bounce-back 28-10 victory over the Vikings, Jay Cutler completed two passes - one to Earl Bennett to convert a third down, and one to Kellen Davis to take the ball down to the goal line - that illustrated the difference.
After Matt Forte's almost incomprehensible fumble on the Bears' first play from scrimmage, the first of his two fumbles on what well may have been his worst day as a Bear, the Bear defense first rose up and held the Vikings to a field goal.
Then the D forced a turnover the second time the visitors had the ball. After Nick Roach punched the ball out off Adrian Peterson's hands and Charles Tillman fell on it, the Bears had only to drive about 35 yards to score a touchdown that would give them the lead.
But plays had to be made to do even that and the quarterback was on it. Cutler fired the ball to Bennett with a fraction of a second to spare before a Viking linebacker would have arrived and cleaned his clock. Bennett snatched the pass down the middle despite the threat of a big hit and ran a little further for an 11-yard gain.
Then Cutler zipped the pass to Davis, who had a defender right next to him and was just barely clear of another defender who was playing a short zone. That pass in particular traveled through a figurative window of about two feet by two feet to find the receiver who has struggled to make big catches of late.
Michael Bush banged his way into the end zone and the Bears had a lead they would not relinquish.
Those two passes, as well as the icing on the cake to Matt Spaeth in the end zone, are passes that Bear backup Jason Campbell simply can't complete. (He shouldn't feel bad, Christian Ponder can't complete them either.)
The strength and accuracy of Cutler's throws are the biggest reason that in his last three seasons with the Bears he has led them to a spot in the NFC championship game, a 7-3 record before a season-ending injury and an 8-3 record this time around that has them not just in a strong position for a playoff berth just a week after everyone thought the roof had caved in but a game up on the Packers in the North Division after that delightful Green Bay game last night.
Still, it was telling to see Cutler hanging out by the training table when right guard Lance Louis was being evaluated after Jared Allen's brutal, third-quarter cheap shot, a cheap shot that better cost him at least a couple of $10s of thousands. Cutler knows how well Louis has played for most of this year and he knows that an extended absence blows a massive hole in the Bears' already worrisome offensive line.
Then again, despite losing both starting guards (Tim Spencer went down in the first half), the line was at least decent against the strong pass-rushing Vikings. That was two games out of the last three in which the line has held against strong defenses (they did the job in pass protection against the Texans before crumbling versus the 49ers). On the other hand, the Bears often employed max protect schemes that led to only three receivers or even just two going out on routes.
And while the Bears made plenty of plays in the scoring drives with which they extended their lead to 18-3, they also benefited greatly from a pair of Vikings penalties that didn't need to be called. The unnecessary roughness flag drawn by Eric Weems in the first quarter was weak stuff - the best refs don't call that. And the 24-yard pass interference call drawn by Brandon Marshall was at best a toss-up. If anything, offensive pass interference should have been called.
For all the Bears did right, the early tone of the game might have been different had the refs gotten those calls right. But with Cutler on his game, it also likely wouldn't have mattered.
* Eric Adelson of Yahoo! Sports says Cutler deserves MVP consideration.
* Michael David Smith of NBC Sports says Cutler is unappreciated.
* Matt Trowbridge of the Rockford Register Star says the Bears are back thanks to Cutler.
* Tom Jackson of ESPN thinks Cutler is, um, something because he doesn't say hello to stadium workers.
* Joe Levine of SportsGrid says Cutler's douchey unsportsmanlike conduct penalty shows he's still a sad, little man.
* The nation's fantasy football multitudes are not impressed.
Jim "Coach" Coffman is our man on Mondays. He welcomes your comments.
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