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updated: 12/26/2012 8:13 PM

Bears' playoff hopes could rest on Cutler's shoulders

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  • Bears quarterback Jay Cutler's passer rating for the season is 80.2, 22nd in the NFL.

      Bears quarterback Jay Cutler's passer rating for the season is 80.2, 22nd in the NFL.
    Associated Press

 
 

If it's true that the best players produce their greatest performances in the biggest games, Bears quarterback Jay Cutler is overdue to light it up against Sunday at Detroit.

To make the playoffs, the Bears need to win at Ford Field and then have the Green Bay Packers defeat the Minnesota Vikings.

"This is a big game," Cutler observed. "Last week was a big game."

So was the game before that, the 21-13 loss to the Packers. But in those two big games, Cutler was mediocre; his combined passer rating was 74.9. There are 31 quarterbacks in the 32-team NFL with a higher passer rating this season.

Over all games, Cutler's passer rating is 80.2, 22nd in the NFL.

He gets another chance against the Lions, and his performance could be crucial, especially with the availability of featured ball carrier Matt Forte questionable because of a sprained ankle.

The good news is the Bears have won eight of the last nine meetings with Detroit.

Cutler has thrown 11 TD passes with just 1 interception in eight career games against the Lions for a 100.9 passer rating, despite a pedestrian performance in Week 7, when he had a 76.0 passer rating and was sacked five times.

"We've got to win," Cutler said. "There's nothing else to be said about it, and quarterback play, these are the games you've got to have."

It's clearly not all Cutler's fault, but the Bears' quarterback play hasn't been responsible for much of the success they've experienced in 2012, especially in the second half of the season.

Four times in the last seven games and six in the last 10, the Bears have had fewer than 150 passing yards; the NFL average in 233. The Bears have topped that number just once in their last 10 games.

The offensive line, which has been a revolving door recently at three of the five positions, arguably played its best game of the season in the 28-13 victory at Arizona on Sunday.

Center Roberto Garza, the steadying veteran influence for a group in transition, said if his crew gets the job done up front, Cutler will do fine.

"We've seen what he's been able to do when we give him time," Garza said. "It's up to us to give him that time to show off his skills and take advantage of the players we have at the receiver position, the tight end position and the running back position.

"When we give him time, he shows what kind of quarterback he is. That's the guy that we want back there."

The Bears have had to utilize five different O-line alignments in the last six games. Offensive coordinator Mike Tice said they've done a good job of overcoming and adapting, but the group still can get better in the run game as well as in pass protection.

"The guys are working diligently to minimize mental errors, to not be the guy that has his guy in the hole in the run game," Tice said. "Throughout the course of the season, we've had one guy in the hole in the run.

"(But) guys are really focused and working hard. They're grown men, and they get embarrassed. You don't want to be the one group that is screwing it up for everybody, and they've taken their turns doing that. We all have."

Right tackle Jonathan Scott (hamstring) still was limited at Wednesday's practice. So Gabe Carimi could make his second straight start there, five weeks after losing the job to Scott.

Undrafted rookie James Brown has started the past two games at left guard.

"James has come in and, although he's made some rookie mistakes, he's bringing some size in there, some aggression, some athleticism, and he's really helped us," Tice said.

"It was nice to see Carimi go back into right tackle and have a solid game for us, too. The guys are trying and they're working. They have to play well again this week. They understand it all starts with them."

After that, it may very well be up to Cutler.

rlegere@dailyherald.com

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