BY MIKE MULLIGAN firstname.lastname@example.org
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Nothing can elevate a team quite like a quarterback.
Get the right guy, and success follows. Jay Cutler reminded the Bears of that Sunday with a stellar performance that lifted the team to a 27-20 victory before 85,168 at Cowboys Stadium. Cutler had a 136.7 passer rating, the third-highest of his career behind ratings of 137 and 141 during his Pro Bowl season in Denver.
He's unbeaten (17-0) in his pro career when he has a rating over 100, including a 108.3 rating last week against Detroit. Cutler has four consecutive 100-plus games, dating to last season.
If you don't know much about the passer rating, don't feel bad. It's a complicated formula designed around the time of the AFL/NFL merger. It was created to get quarterbacks close to the 100 mark so it looked like they were achieving something. The good thing about it is it rewards guys who throw touchdowns and punishes those who throw interceptions. That was a bugaboo for Cutler last season, of course, when he led the NFL with 26 picks.
''Last year helped a lot, just going through those struggles,'' Cutler said.
He has learned resiliency. But the way the game started, it's a miracle Cutler survived.
If there's anything worse for a quarterback than losing his left tackle, Cutler couldn't think of it. Funny thing is, Chris Williams going down is the best thing that could've happened to the Bears. They were in danger of being overwhelmed early, even though they opened the scoring with a field goal thanks to a Dallas turnover.
Williams left with a hamstring injury, and Kevin Shaffer looked overmatched in a few plays at left tackle. Frank Omiyale was moved from the right side to left tackle, forcing Mike Martz to change his play-calling.
Cutler went from a guy ready to take out an order of protection against DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer, to one daring them to charge him as he attacked the Cowboys' defense.
Suddenly it was three-step drops and quick releases. A three-play drive, covering 58 yards, came out of nowhere and stopped the blitzkrieg. Would Martz have gone that way if Williams was still in the game? The simple fact is, Williams, Shaffer and Omiyale couldn't stop Ware. When Williams went out, the Bears changed accordingly.
''We knew we were going to have a tough time taking seven steps and protecting everything and being able to dump the guy down the field, so we thought the next best thing was to empty it out and see if they wanted to blitz or if they wanted to play soft and get it out quick,'' Cutler said.
A 39-yard touchdown pass to Greg Olsen on a crossing route took advantage of a Dallas blitz and misread by safety Alan Ball. The play gave the Bears confidence and sent Dallas' defense a message: They were the team under siege now. Cutler said it was the turning point.
''Absolutely,'' he said. ''We were reeling a bit. The crowd was getting into it, and they were getting into it defensively. It takes one play. We talk about it all the time. We hit Greg and he's gone, and we're right back in it.''
The Cowboys responded with a touchdown for a 14-10 lead, but Cutler and the Bears' offense answered that, too. A hopeless-looking third-and-15 turned into a 59-yard bomb from Cutler to Johnny Knox, the Bears' only third-down conversion (1-for-11, 9 percent). It led to a nine-yard touchdown pass from Cutler to Devin Hester, who made a spectacular one-handed grab on a perfectly thrown ball.
Cutler's third touchdown pass came in the fourth quarter on a quick-strike drive with passes of 18, seven, 38 and three yards after a missed game-tying field goal by the Cowboys.
General manager Jerry Angelo was asked if this could be a statement game on WBBM-AM (780).
''It would be a statement game because of the opponent and you're playing on the road,'' Angelo said. ''But our focus is on getting better -- cleaning up the things we need to clean up to play a [solid] game. That's the key -- not beating ourselves. Whatever statements you make, you make.''
The Bears cleaned it up all right. From four turnovers last week to none. From nine penalties for 100 yards to two for 10. From a Super Bowl joke to a team with a quarterback good enough for a return trip to Dallas.
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