Extra Points: The real test for Cutler remains Green Bay

1:09 PM, Nov 26, 2012   |    comments
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Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - You hate to make light of the NFL's concussion protocol but let's just say its inconsistency from week-to-week could certainly raise some eyebrows if you're in the Oliver Stone crowd.

Jay Cutler missed Chicago's Week 11 meltdown in San Francisco after suffering a concussion right before halftime against Houston back on Nov. 11 but damn any protocol -- he was never going to miss Sunday's game with Minnesota.

All the hand-wringing during the week regarding Cutler's health was just white noise to keep the media guessing. The veteran gunslinger owns the Vikings and would have flown in his own "independent" neurologist to get clearance to play the Purple if he had to.

"I felt confident about it. I felt good with the test," Cutler said after a dominating 28-10 win over Minnesota. "I had no symptoms of concussion, so I felt good. It was just a matter of going through the motions and talking to the doctors. I had a good week of practice."

An early Matt Forte fumble gave the Minnesota life for a few seconds on Sunday but as soon as Adrian Peterson gave it right back with his own miscue, it was game, set and match thanks to Cutler.

The box score for the Vanderbilt product wasn't out of the ordinary, reading 23-for-31 with 188 yards, with a touchdown and an interception, but it hardly told the whole story.

Cutler finished 15-for-17 in the first half when it counted as the Bears built a virtually insurmountable 25-3 lead against a Vikings team simply not built to play from behind.

"We wanted to see some rhythm and a little sense of urgency," Cutler said. "Guys just doing their job, play after play and getting some drives together."

Cutler used his Brett Favre-like arm to direct pinpoint passes into tight window after tight window as Chicago converted 10 of its first 13 third down conversion attempts.

Minnesota was unable to muster much of a pass rush from Jared Allen or Brian Robison, who have both been dealing with nagging injuries for most of the season, and Cutler, who always seems to look like Dan Marino against the Vikings, played pitch-and-catch with Brandon Marshall all day.

"They had a great game plan. They executed well," Vikings cornerback Antoine Winfield said. "I don't know what their third down percentage was. They kept converting, kept converting. Once they got in the red zone, they were scoring touchdowns. We can't allow that to happen. The game got out of hand really early. We didn't really give ourselves a chance."

Part of it was certainly Minnesota's fault. You would think a player coming off a concussion with a left tackle named J'Marcus Webb opposite Allen would be as skittish as a cat but Cutler knows what the Vikings are about and that's why he has such a comfort level against them.

In fact the Vikings' plan on defense was so vanilla against a guy who was concussed two weeks ago, it was almost like Leslie Frazier, a member of Chicago's famous 1985 Super Bowl team, was a mole, intent on helping his old organization.

Mike Tice, the Bears' offensive coordinator and an ex-Vikings head coach, had no such divided loyalties, employing max protection schemes and instructing Cutler to take advantage of simple and ultimately futile zone coverage as the Bears halted a two-game skid and opened up a one-game lead over the Green Bay Packers in the NFC North after the Pack fell to the Giants later on Sunday.

Minnesota seemed to game plan based on media reports on how bad the Bears' offensive line is. By the time Frazier and his defensive coordinator Alvin Williams finally woke up and decided to take a chance here and there, the game was long decided.

"We knew that coming in with (Jay) Cutler coming off a concussion and what the 49ers defense did to them last week. We knew they were going to max up and run two- or three-man routes," Winfield said. "Their game plan worked today."

It always does against the Vikings.

Cutler targeted Marshall 17 times on Sunday and connected on 12 of them for 92 yards along with a 24-yard pass interference penalty Marshall drew on Winfield in the second quarter which placed the ball at the 1-yard line, setting up a Chicago score.

To be fair, the Bears are very good against just about everyone these days with Cutler on the field. Chicago is a gaudy 26-11 with him as their starter since 2010. Since Week 6 of 2011 the Bears are an even better 13-2 versus a dismal 1-6 without him.

But the Vikings were never the real test for Cutler. He's won six straight against them and excels against Tampa-2 coverage.

"This is becoming deja vu coming here," Allen said. "It's the same script, just another year. We've got to fix something."

The Vikings will get another shot at solving Cutler in Minneapolis on Dec. 9 but unless Frazier changes his whole philosophy in two weeks expect similar results.

In the Second City, the Vikings are the speed bump while Green Bay remains the yardstick.

The Packers have won four straight against the Bears, including a dominant 23-10 win in the Badger State back in Week 2 when Cutler was sacked seven times -- 3 1/2 by Clay Matthews -- as he completed just 11-of-27 passes for 126 yards with a touchdown and four interceptions,

The Cutler who oozes confidence against Minnesota is the same guy who tends to look like Babe Laufenberg against the Packers and Dom Capers' far more complex defensive schemes, which make pre-snap reads a tad more difficult than Frazier's antiquated offerings.

While the Vikings throw defense 101 at Cutler, Capers hurls a graduate-level course at Chicago's signal-caller.

Cutler will get one more opportunity to solve the Packers this season at Soldier Field on Dec. 16, a game which will likely decide the NFC North and whether Cutler will ever get the credit he deserves in ChiTown.

BROWN OUT FOR PITTSBURGH

It took a third-string quarterback and the penultimate miscue among eight turnovers for the Cleveland Browns to finally get the best of their long-time antagonists.

Chris Rainey's fumble with 2:25 left was recovered by Cleveland's Phil Taylor, securing the Browns 20-14 win over the slumping Steelers on Sunday.

Veteran Charlie Batch, forced to start at quarterback for Pittsburgh after injuries to Ben Roethlisberger and Byron Leftwich in back-to-back weeks, was picked off three times while the Steelers also lost five of eight fumbles, the last on the final play of the game to help Cleveland win for just the just the second time in 18 tries against Pittsburgh.

"That was an ugly performance," said Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin. "If you turn the ball over the way we did today, you're not going to beat anybody, that's just the reality in the National Football League. I'm surprised it was that close given the turnover situation."

Cleveland also held Pittsburgh to just 242 total yards, with Batch managing 199 through the air on 20-of-34 passing.

"When I talk about this game, you talk about the defense, of course," said Browns head coach Pat Shurmur. "We had seven sacks last week (against Dallas) and we had eight turnovers this week. We held Pittsburgh to 1-for-9 on (third) down and that's outstanding stuff. We can talk about how the game was played, but our guys stepped up and did an outstanding job defensively."

Pittsburgh (6-5), meanwhile, has now dropped two straight heading into next week's showdown at the AFC North front-running Ravens, who dealt the Steelers a 13-10 defeat in the Steel City on Nov. 18 in the first game Roethlisberger missed due to injuries to his right shoulder and ribs.

The Steelers will enter that clash three games behind the Ravens in the division standings after Baltimore earned a 16-13 overtime win in San Diego on Sunday.

The AFC North, however, is just a pipe dream for Pittsburgh at this point. Now it's got to be about a wild card berth and outdueling Indianapolis and Cincinnati for Tomlin and Co.

TERRIFIC TE'O

Thanksgiving means a lot of things to a lot of people.

Family, food and football is a popular refrain across the country but for some who follow teams having difficult seasons, the football part of that triumvirate can cause more indigestion than the binge eating.

For them the thought of next Sunday's game is torture but April 25, 2013 offers hope. That's when the annual NFL Draft will kick off at Radio City Music Hall in New York.

Inside linebacker is one of those positions most NFL personnel people don't think is worthy of a really high draft pick but that should change this time around with Manti Te'o of Notre Dame available.

The emotional leader of a team heading to the BCS National Championship Game, Te'o is a great football player who is overflowing with the intangibles that make an inexact science a little easier to decipher.

Te'o will likely be invited to New York for the Heisman Trophy ceremony on Dec. 8 and is the first legitimate defensive candidate for the award since the Packers' Charles Woodson won it back in 1997 for Michigan.

"If a guy like Manti Te'o is not going to win the Heisman, they should just make it an offensive award," Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said after his team defeated Southern Cal over the weekend to secure a spot in the BCS title game.

"He is the backbone of a 12-0 football team that has proven itself each week. He showed it again (against USC) with a key interception and a great play in the end zone. If the Heisman Trophy is what it is, I don't know how Manti Teo is held out of the conversation."

Heisman or not Te'o is the rare inside 'backer worthy of a top 10 pick come April.

SEAHAWKS PLAYOFF HOPES 'SPEEDING' TOWARD DISASTER

The Seahawks road woes continued on Sunday when Dan Carpenter drilled a 43- yard field goal as time expired to lift the Miami Dolphins to a 24-21 victory over Seattle at Sun Life Stadium.

Rookie quarterback Russell Wilson improved a bit away from the 12th man in Seattle, completing 21-of-27 passes for 224 yards with a pair of touchdowns for the 6-5 Seahawks, who were coming off their bye and fell to 1-5 as the visitor this season.

"We made too many mistakes and that's just not doing the job the right way," Seattle head coach Pete Carroll said. "I gave them a bunch of time off and maybe we're too young to do that, I don't know."

Wilson, who has 11 touchdown passes and no interceptions at home versus six TDs and eight picks in his six chances on the road, had the Seahawks at the Miami 40 and threatening for a go-ahead score with less than two minutes to play, before a screen pass lost six yards and a sack pushed Seattle back.

The Dolphins took over at their own 10 with just 92 seconds left and QB Ryan Tannehill quickly went to work. He threw a 19-yard pass to Davone Bess, scrambled for 15 yards and hit Bess again for 25 yards to the Seattle 36 with 46 seconds to play.

After fullback Charles Clay caught a pass for seven yards, Daniel Thomas ran up the middle for four yards and the Dolphins called their final timeout with four seconds left before Carpenter calmly split the uprights.

A tight, frustrating loss turned out to be the least of Seattle's problem, however.

Half of the Seahawks' imposing secondary is about to take a vacation for a month.

Seattle's starting cornerbacks, Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner, are facing four- game suspensions for violating the NFL's policy against performance-enhancing substances, according to a report on NFL.com.

Sherman and Browner, who are expected to appeal the suspensions, are accused of testing positive for the suddenly prevalent Adderall, which is on the list of substances banned by the league.

A brand name psychostimulant drug which belongs to the phenethylamine as well as the amphetamine chemical classes, Adderall is generally used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) as well as narcolepsy. At its core, however, it's still a form of "Speed."

It's also evidently en vogue with NFL defensive backs. First it was Cleveland's Joe Haden, then it was New England Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib while he was a member of Tampa Bay, and current Buccaneers cornerback Eric Wright.

Now Adderall is about to take down the Seahawks' terrific tandem on the edge. Sherman leads the Seahawks with four interceptions this season, while Browner, a Pro Bowler last season, has three.

The real suspension here, however, might be the Seahawks' playoff hopes.

STATISTICALLY SPEAKING

-Marshall went over 1,000 receiving yards on the season against the Vikings, . becoming just the fifth player in NFL history to record a 1,000-yard receiving season with three different teams. Marshall, who also accomplished the feat in Denver and Miami, joins Irving Fryar, Tony Martin, Randy Moss and Terrell Owens.

-Three rookie quarterbacks, Tannehill, Weeden and Indianapolis' Andrew Luck led their teams to victories on Sunday. The 2012 rookie quarterbacks have now won 26 starts, the most in a season by freshmen since the 1970 merger.

-Luck's seven wins as a starter matched Sam Bradford in 2010 as the most ever by a No. 1 overall selection. Luck has also passed for 3,205 yards, the most by a rookie quarterback in NFL history through his team's first 11 games.

-Seattle's Leon Washington had a 98-yard kickoff-return touchdown in the Seahawks' loss at Miami. Washington now has eight career kickoff-return touchdowns, tied with Josh Cribbs for the most in NFL history.

-New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees tossed three touchdown passes in the Saints' 31-21 loss to San Francisco. He now has 31 TD passes in 2012, his fifth season with at least 30, joining Favre (nine) and Peyton Manning (six) as the only quarterbacks in NFL history with at least five seasons with 30 or more.

-49ers linebacker Aldon Smith sacked Brees 1 1/2 times on Sunday, reaching 30 career sacks (30 1/2) in his 27th game. The former Mizzou star is the fastest to 30 since sacks became an official statistic in 1982, besting Hall of Famer Reggie White, by one game.

-St. Louis cornerback Janoris Jenkins had two interception-return touchdowns in the Rams' 31-17 win at Arizona. Jenkins is the fourth rookie in NFL history to return two interceptions for a touchdown in a game. The other first-year players to accomplish the feat were Hoot Flanagan (Nov. 29, 1925), Dan Sandifer (Oct. 31, 1948) and Bobby Franklin (Dec. 11, 1960).

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