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SPOTLIGHT
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Spotlight on Cutler with Bears eyeing playoffs

Published on -12/29/2013, 6:40 PM

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By ANDREW SELIGMAN

Associated Press

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- There will be no shortage of eyes on Jay Cutler this week, even with Aaron Rodgers returning to the field.

The season comes down to a playoffs-or-bust finale for the NFC North title when the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers meet at Soldier Field today, and the quarterbacks will be in the spotlight.

Rodgers will be behind center for the Packers for the first time since he injured his collarbone in a loss to Chicago on Nov. 4. Cutler will get his share of attention, too.

Cutler has an expiring contract, a bad history against Green Bay and at least a few fans in Chicago who would just as soon see Josh McCown starting. Cutler insisted he's not looking for vindication.

"This isn't a personal game for anybody in that locker room," he said. "It's all of us together."

Maybe. But no matter how much Cutler tries to make it about the team, to a large degree this one is still about him.

Even as his fifth season in Chicago winds down, big questions remain about his demeanor, his leadership and his ability to perform in big situations.

The fact that his contract is up just adds another wrinkle to the story.

General manager Phil Emery has expressed his support for Cutler, but exactly how the negotiations play out remains to be seen.

Emery has said he would prefer to work out a multiyear deal rather than have Cutler play under the franchise tag next season, assuming they retain him.

But could a bad game by the quarterback this week affect his value? And if he leads the Bears to a victory, same question. For now, Cutler's future is a bit murky.

"I haven't really thought about it," Cutler said. "Not going to think about it. I've got enough on my plate thinking about Green Bay."

And if that conjures up a few bad memories for him, it easy to see why.

Cutler is 1-8 against the Packers, including a loss with Denver in 2007 and in the NFC title game at Soldier Field three years ago. He has 17 interceptions, nine touchdowns and a 59.9 rating in those games, and when the Bears won at Lambeau Field this year, it was with McCown filling in.

Cutler sat out that game with a groin injury and suffered a high ankle sprain against Detroit the following week, forcing him to miss four more games.

When he returned at Cleveland on Dec. 15, he shook off some early rust to lead the Bears to a 38-31 victory. But he got sacked five times last week while the defense got rolled over by Philadelphia in a 54-11 loss that prevented Chicago from locking up the division.

Now, it comes down to one final game and one big moment for Cutler against a team that's given him fits.

"Every year is independent of the next," Bears coach Marc Trestman said. "I don't know that you can define how it was, how it's going to be. We'll know more about that at 7 o'clock Sunday night and then you got a little more to work with, but this year is this year. He is in a new offense, with new coaches all around him."

And Cutler is having one of his best seasons as a pro in his first year in Trestman's offense.

His 88.1 rating and 63.1 completion percentage are the best since he arrived from Denver. He has a rebuilt offensive line and elite receivers in Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery to go with tight end Martellus Bennett and running back Matt Forte.

"We weren't as good on offense," Cutler said when asked about his struggles against Green Bay.

He has the weapons now. And the Bears have a big opportunity this week.

To some, it's a defining moment for Cutler. Can he lift this team? And will his performance on Sunday impact the Bears' perception of him?

"I don't look at this moment to be a time to be talking about things that are really not relevant to the moment," Trestman said. "I think I've been consistent with that the entire year with how I've approached those questions."

Notes

WR Earl Bennett was tending to what Trestman said was a "very personal" family issue in Texas on Thursday. ... The Bears signed WR Chris Williams from the New Orleans Saints practice squad and waived DT Christian Tupou.

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