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Haugh: Jay Cutler restores calm to Bears

Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler (6) looks to pass during the first half against the Minnesota Vikings at Solider Field on Sunday, November 25, 2012, in Chicago, Illinois. The Bears defeated the Vikings, 28-10.
Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler (6) looks to pass during the first half against the Minnesota Vikings at Solider Field on Sunday, November 25, 2012, in Chicago, Illinois. The Bears defeated the Vikings, 28-10.

(MCT) — CHICAGO — During the fourth quarter of Sunday’s 28-10 victory over the Vikings at Soldier Field, Jay Cutler noticed left tackle J’Marcus Webb’s loose shoelace.

Webb must have been too busy protecting Cutler’s blind side to see his cleat had become untied. There was a time earlier this season when Cutler might have yelled at Webb to tie his own %$#!#$#! shoe. Or tied them together.

Instead Cutler politely bent down and put a bow on Webb’s size 22. This gesture represents progress.

“I loosened it, I tied it, I guess my fatherly instincts are kicking in a little bit,” the young dad said.

Call Camden’s daddy the head of his household or the heart of the Bears offense. However you want to refer to the occasionally irascible, always irreplaceable quarterback, call this the day Cutler tightened things up for the Bears in every conceivable way.

Back from a concussion that forced him to miss the last 1½ games, Cutler returned to restore calm to a football city suffering from anxiety after consecutive losses to legitimate Super Bowl contenders.

When Cutler plays with the kind of command that beat the Vikings, the Bears season seems much more under control. When Cutler compensates for poor protection or dropped passes by making plays anyway, Sunday’s injury attrition to five starters seems much less catastrophic.

“I can’t really sum it up,” coach Lovie Smith said of what the Bears missed without Cutler for six quarters prior to Sunday.

True, statistically Cutler’s numbers weren’t anything that jumped off the screen as they crawled across the bottom of television sets — 23 of 31 for 188 yards, one interception, one TD and a passer rating of 86.5. But Cutler’s instincts helped him escape sacks and his mere presence in the huddle changed the way the Vikings viewed the Bears — and perhaps most significantly how the Bears view themselves.

“It’s just the confidence that comes with having your guy,” Smith said. “Everyone needs their stud quarterback. We’re no different.”

As early as the third series, the dramatic difference Cutler makes in the Bears, regardless of their other flaws, became obvious. Out of the shotgun, Cutler fired a 15-yard laser to tight end Kellen Davis that left Cutler’s hands several steps before Davis turned his head at the 1.

His second-quarter, 13-yard touchdown pass to tight end Matt Spaeth came as the result of another throw only a handful of NFL quarterbacks can make — or dare to even try. Buying time as he did instinctively all game, at the last moment Cutler saw Spaeth and a crevice almost nobody else in the stadium could.

“It gave me a little bitty window,” Cutler said.

When Cutler gets hot, he can fit a pebble through a straw.

“When you have a quarterback like Jay Cutler, there’s no window too small,” Brandon Marshall said.

Suddenly, the Bears’ Super Bowl window looks bigger than it did a week ago.

Sunday’s most noticeable growth about Cutler wasn’t that lumberjack-wannabe mustache he is sporting to raise awareness for men’s health. It was evident in Cutler’s response to whether he realized how he needed to alter his high-risk, high-reward approach in Week 12.

“Absolutely,” Cutler said. “When you have a line of new guys in there, I want to get rid of the ball fast, find my first read and take it. We also want to limit sacks. If we have to design routes to shorten things up, so be it.”

If that turns Cutler into a game manager, so be it. Nobody will mind if he manages playoff games as efficiently as he did this one.

Offensive coordinator Mike Tice also found his rhythm against a respectable defense. Tice called 39 running plays and 32 passes. To prevent Vikings pass rusher Jared Allen from controlling the game, Tice employed shorter drops and quicker routes. Cutler was sacked once, when he tripped while dropping back.

“The play-calling was good,” Cutler said.

Indeed, the Bears offense became balanced, methodical and governed by Marshall Law: Find No. 15 whenever possible. Marshall caught 12 passes for 92 yards and Cutler targeted him 17 times — including twice verbally, not recorded on the stat sheet.

The first time came in the third quarter, when Marshall informed Cutler he had surpassed 1,000 receiving yards, as if he carried a calculator in his sock.

“He looked at me and said, ‘You’re disgusting,’ ” Marshall said.

Cutler struck again postgame when asked about Marshall’s play.

“When he comes in here, ask him about the catches he dropped too,” Cutler cracked.

Only Marshall’s longtime buddy can get away with teasing the Pro Bowl wide receiver publicly about drops. But as Cutler reminded us Sunday, the ties that bind can help build team chemistry.

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