Jay Cutler was hardly at his best - both on the field and with one of his teammates - during the Chicago Bears' first prime-time game this season, but he shined in his most recent road contest against the Dallas Cowboys.
The quarterback will try to duplicate the positive performance and avoid another meltdown on national TV when Chicago visits Dallas on Monday night.
Cutler has experienced an up-and-down start for the Bears (2-1) and was decidedly on the down side in a 23-10 loss to Green Bay on Sept. 13, throwing four interceptions and getting sacked seven times.
He also created a furor when he was seen berating and giving a slight shove to offensive tackle J'Marcus Webb while the team returned to the sidelines not long after one of those sacks. That led to defensive back D.J. Moore criticizing Cutler's actions the following week.
Cutler, who had 333 yards and two touchdowns in a season-opening win over Indianapolis, was 14 of 31 with one interception against St. Louis in a 23-6 victory this past week. However, he helped lead the Bears to 20 first downs, nine more than they totaled against the Packers.
"Right now we're just learning the offense. Everyone's getting comfortable. We're finding our identity," Cutler told the team's official website. "(Offensive coordinator Mike Tice is) still finding his identity as a play-caller. All those things are coming together and at the end of the day we've just got to win games, and that's what we did."
Chicago recorded six of its league-best 14 sacks and had two interceptions, one returned 45 yards for a touchdown by Major Wright in the fourth quarter.
"They're consistently getting better," Cutler said of the defense. "To see them get out there and dominate like that - they're in complete control of their offense and exactly what was going on. It's a tough group to go against."
Cutler was tough on the Cowboys in a 27-20 road victory Sept. 19, 2010, going 21 of 29 for 277 yards with three touchdown passes. Matt Forte scored a key touchdown on a 3-yard pass from Cutler in the fourth quarter of that game, but he is listed as questionable for Monday.
Forte sat out last week's contest after spraining his right ankle against Green Bay, and Michael Bush had 55 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries in his absence. Forte, though, practiced Wednesday for the first time since getting injured and said he thinks he'll "be good to go" Monday.
Coach Lovie Smith tempered that a bit, saying Forte still has "a long ways to go."
If he does play, Forte could help the Bears to their third 3-1 start in four years and deny the Cowboys their first since 2008.
Dallas (2-1) could use a better effort on offense than it had in a 16-10 win over Tampa Bay last week. The Cowboys committed three turnovers and allowed Tony Romo to get sacked four times.
They also had 13 penalties for 105 yards - six false starts - but allowed the Buccaneers to gain just 166 yards.
"This is a very, very satisfying win, even though it will kind of get lost in the shuffle as you move into the season," Romo said. "These are the kind of wins you have to have.''
Dallas could also use a little more help from DeMarco Murray. The running back had 131 yards in a season-opening win over the Giants but has totaled 82 in the past two games. He had 38 yards on 18 carries against Tampa Bay.
"We've moved the ball basically the last couple of weeks through the air," coach Jason Garrett said. "We've got to run the ball better. I think we've got to execute better across the board."
The Cowboys rushed for only 36 yards in the 2010 matchup with the Bears, who are sixth in rushing defense at 76.0 yards per game. Romo threw for 374 yards but had a pair of interceptions.
He had 329 yards and two touchdowns in a 34-10 win in the teams' last meeting at Chicago on Sept. 23, 2007.
- Chicago Bears