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updated: 10/31/2012 8:44 PM

Bears' Cutler saving his best for last

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  • Bears wide receiver Brandon Marshall helps his team get within field-goal range while being pursued by Carolina Panthers defensive back Josh Norman during Sunday's game at Soldier Field.

      Bears wide receiver Brandon Marshall helps his team get within field-goal range while being pursued by Carolina Panthers defensive back Josh Norman during Sunday's game at Soldier Field.
    JOE LEWNARD | Staff Photographer

  • Bears quarterback Jay Cutler leads the NFL with a fourth-quarter passer rating of 132.0.

      Bears quarterback Jay Cutler leads the NFL with a fourth-quarter passer rating of 132.0.
    JOE LEWNARD | Staff Photographer

 
 

Quarterback Jay Cutler and the Bears' offense have struggled to find a rhythm for most of the season, but the later a game gets, the better they've played.

Cutler has a whopping NFL lead when it comes to fourth-quarter passer rating. He's at 132.0, and Denver's Peyton Manning is next at 119.6 followed by Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers at 110.6.

No one else is within 25 points of Cutler.

"Jay's one of those guys where he has that 'clutch' gene," wide receiver Brandon Marshall said. "You hear guys talking about it; some believe in it, some don't. But Jay has it."

With Cutler completing 73.9 percent of his throws in the final 15 minutes and tossing 6 TD passes and just 2 interceptions, the Bears have scored 44 percent of their total points.

"That's a good thing to be saying about your quarterback when most games come down to how you perform in that fourth quarter," Bears coach Lovie Smith said.

"He has been outstanding in those situations. We just need to take that mindset to the first quarter, and that's what we're working on."

The Bears' 81 fourth-quarter points are more than double the 40 they've scored in the third quarter, their next most productive quarter.

As impressive as Cutler's fourth-quarter numbers are, it leaves him with a 63.4 passer rating for the other three quarters.

"We've talked about it being a young offense and everyone kind of coming together," Cutler said. "It takes us a little bit longer to make adjustments in games and get everything straightened out."

The Bears' offense is last in the NFL in average gain on first downs (4.19 yards), and Cutler believes there's a correlation between slow starts in games and weak production on first down.

The Bears have scored just 30 points in the first quarter and 34 in the second.

"We've got to get better early on in the first half, and that accounts for the first part of drives, too -- first downs," he said. "We're not going to make a living coming back in the fourth quarter (or) trying to convert third-and-longs."

But, except for the Week 2 loss to the Packers, Cutler has been as good as the Bears need him to be in the fourth quarter.

"I'm getting lucky, I guess," he said. "I think we're just figuring it out in the fourth quarter. Our defense is putting us in positions where we're leading games.

"And (opposing) defenses are trying to get the ball back, playing a lot of single high (safety), which makes it a lot easier on the outside throwing the ball. We've hit some big plays out there.

"The way our defense is playing and carrying leads into the fourth quarter makes my job easier."

Nothing has more of an impact on Cutler's performance in the fourth quarter, or in any quarter, than the performance of the offensive line.

"If you give him time, he can connect with those big-time receivers that we have out there," center Roberto Garza. "We've been practicing that (two-minute drill) since we started training camp, and obviously it paid off (last week)."

The O-line didn't step up its game until it was almost too late Sunday against Carolina.

"We (finally) did our jobs better," Garza said. "It comes down to us executing the plays, protecting our guy and creating some running lanes.

"Jay was great in the two-minute drill, those receivers did a (heck) of a job, and we were able to protect."

The key now is getting it going before crunchtime.

"We're not (purposely) waiting until the fourth quarter to play our best football," offensive coordinator Mike Tice said. "It just turns out that we're playing a little bit better in the fourth quarter.

"We've played pretty good in the last two games early. We've got to get that middle part figured out. Once we do that, then maybe we put a whole game together."

rlegere@dailyherald.com

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