Cutler threw four interceptions in the first game since the Bears traded a king’s ransom to Denver to get him. That left Chicagoans howling about the last franchise quarterback the Bears had still being Sid Luckman – 60 years ago.
How often does Cutler get reminded of something he already knew growing up a Bears fan in Santa Claus, Ind.?
“Every day,” he said. “They made the trade. There were a lot of expectations, giving up a player, two first-round picks. Obviously there’s going to be a lot of pressure. But it’s been fun. I think the whole team has kind of rallied around it. It got everyone excited.”
Now, one win over the Super Bowl-champion Steelers later, the most scrutinized Bear has a huge advantage over Seahawks three-time Pro Bowl passer Matt Hasselbeck entering Sunday’s game in Seattle.
Cutler doesn’t have a broken rib.
Hasselbeck, one of 13 injured Seahawks starters, hasn’t practiced since fracturing a rib high near his shoulders in last weekend’s loss at San Francisco. Fill-in Seneca Wallace may make just the 13th start of his seven-year career for the Seahawks (1-1). That gives Chicago (1-1) a huge chance for its first win in Seattle since 1976.
“If I was Matt, I would just take a few weeks off,” Bears coach Lovie Smith said, laughing through the telephone.
Seattle was 3-6 last season when Hasselbeck missed nine games, so he’s in no mood to miss another two days after his 34th birthday. He said he “absolutely hopes to play” and believes the injury is just a matter of pain tolerance.
Seahawks coach Jim Mora says if Hasselbeck and team doctors tell him before kickoff the quarterback can play, he will. Then again, maybe that’s not such a great idea: Seattle was 1-6 last season when Hasselbeck played with a bad back.
“We’re putting the people out there that give us the best chance to win,” Mora said, choosing his bottom line over sympathy.
Sympathy won’t come from the Bears, either, if Hasselbeck takes the field.
“You never try to hit an injured guy’s spot, but that would be on him to try to play with something kind of serious like that,” linebacker Nick Roach said when asked if Chicago would target Hasselbeck’s ribs.
All of this focus on Hasselbeck must be a relief to Cutler. After the dismal debut in Green Bay, he rallied – sort of. His completion percentage went from 47 to 71. He threw two touchdowns without an interception. Yet Chicago scored just 17 points and won largely because Pittsburgh missed two field goals late and looked subpar throughout.
“We knew it was going to take some time,” Cutler said of meshing with the offense, which gets to face a Seattle secondary missing injured starting cornerback Marcus Trufant and fill-in Josh Wilson, plus has starter Ken Lucas ailing with a strained groin. “(I’m) having to learn the offense, and with new receivers and a lot of young guys.
“We’re getting there, though.”
Both teams could use a respectable running game to keep defenses from focusing solely on these quarterbacks with issues. Both haven’t had much of one yet.
Matt Forte, who set a franchise rookie record last year with 1,238 yards rushing, has just 84 yards this season. He is averaging 2.2 yards per carry after the Packers and Steelers ganged up on him at the line of scrimmage.
“There’s going to be a target on my back anyway all season, every game,” Forte said. “So it doesn’t matter if they have eight, nine men in the box or whatever. I have to make plays and try to break tackles.”
That could be easier to do in Seattle. The Seahawks just gave up 207 yards rushing to Frank Gore of the 49ers. Plus, the middle of their defense may be missing three-time Pro Bowl linebacker Lofa Tatupu because of a hamstring injury, and defensive tackle Brandon Mebane because of a strained left calf.
The second missed start of Tatupu’s five-year career would give David Hawthorne, an undrafted free agent in 2008, his first career start at middle linebacker.
Seattle’s offense has 233 yards rushing through two games, but 62 came when Julius Jones broke through the feeble Rams for a touchdown in the opener. Jones twisted his ankle last week at San Francisco, so Edgerrin James could get more of a chance for the 87 yards he needs to pass Marcus Allen for 10th on the league’s career rushing list. James, signed last month after Arizona released him, has 12,157 yards.
Expect the Seahawks to rely more on running inside to test middle linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer. He’s starting because Bears star Brian Urlacher is out for the season with a dislocated right wrist.
New Seahawks offensive coordinator Greg Knapp’s zone-blocking and one-cut-and-go rushing scheme has finished among the NFL’s top 10 in each of the last eight seasons. He says it takes about six games for players new to his system to produce at full efficiency.
Given Hasselbeck’s health, that may be too long a wait.