When Aaron Rodgers embraced Jay Cutler near the 50-yard line at 10:44 p.m. Monday night, he must have been wondering why he was congratulating Cutler instead of it being the other way around.
Rodgers had outdueled his counterpart from south of the border.
Cutler lost that battle, but won the war.
Rodgers had more completions (34-16), more passing yards (316-221), a better passer rating (92.5-82.5), a better completion percentage (75-59), and a hand in more touchdowns (2-1. He played a wonderful game any way you measured it.
Cutler had some help from a punt return that came out of nowhere, a downpour of yellow flags and a fourth quarter fumble that bounced the Bears' way. Football is funny that way.
"I didn't play very well," Cutler said. "I thought we were out of sync. There were some throws I should have made."
Cutler was more sporadic than Rodgers. He and the Bears offense failed to finish some of their drives.
Cutler threw a first quarter interception in the end zone on what looked like a miscommunication between Cutler and tight end Greg Olsen. Offensive coordinator Mike Martz huddled with both players afterward.
On the game-winning drive, Cutler threw what appeared to be two interceptions that were wiped out by Packers penalties.
The play that could have defined the game came on fourth-and-1 from the Packers 1 in the third quarter. Cutler threw a pass that was slightly behind H-back Dez Clark. The ball was catchable, but Clark couldn't hang on.
"They didn't cover him," Cutler said. "We wanted to get it to him as fast as possible. I just have to get him a little better ball."
When the passing lanes were too tight, Cutler used his legs well. He needed his quick feet against a fierce Packers rush. He ran three times for 37 yards, and ran away from pass rushers behind the line of scrimmage without gaining yards many more times.
In Cutler's defense, he was under a lot more pressure than Rodgers. The Bears never sacked Rodgers. Cutler was sacked three times and could have been sacked several more times if not for his escapability.
Cutler's resiliency and toughness were factors in this game. He takes hits that would knock other quarterbacks out of games, if not seasons.
"I've come to expect Jay not blinking when he takes a shot," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "He's a tough guy. We'd like to have him take fewer hits. … He stood in there and made plays."
The Packers had protection issues too. Rodgers' linemen were penalized seven times — three false starts, three holds and an illegal formation. Right tackle Mark Tauscher had three of the penalties and left tackle Chad Clifton had two.
Rodgers drove his team down the field on the Packers' first possession and gave them an early 7-0 lead with a 7-yard touchdown pass to Greg Jennings. He also scored on a 3-yard fourth quarter run shortly after he was cramping up.
Rodgers has the advantage of experience in his system over Cutler. He has been in the same offense for all five years of his career, and he plays like it. Cutler is in his first year in Martz's offense, and he sometimes plays like it.
"We're still learning as an offense," Cutler said.
Cutler talked about how the Bears were a little out of sync. Early, their sideline communication system was malfunctioning. Then they were thrown off by the calls Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers made. Cutler said the Bears were taken by surprise at how the Packers defenders were moving around.
"We didn't play our best game but we won," Cutler said. "That has to be a good sign. Offensively we have to play better. I have to play a lot better. The defense did a good job of keeping us in there."
It's OK to be out-played individually. As long as your team has your back.
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