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Cutler shows maturity in handling debated return

The SportsXchange

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- A 38-31 victory at Cleveland over the Browns left the Chicago Bears feeling possibly more unified as an offense than any time this season only one week after rampant rumors about players being upset with coach Marc Trestman's decision to start quarterback Jay Cutler over red-hot Josh McCown.

The victory may prove galvanizing in a sense because Cutler eventually made Trestman look good with three touchdown passes over the game's final 31 minutes, and possibly because it brought Cutler's confidence -- if not the team's confidence in him -- to new levels.

"I didn't take any temperature," Trestman said Monday about whether he asked players how they felt about Cutler's return. "I didn't. I stayed resolute, I think, in that I felt it was in the best interest of the team from the beginning to make sure that everybody knew the direction that we were going to go. So I did not do that in any way."

It didn't look good when Cutler threw two interceptions, one of which wide receiver Brandon Marshall took blame for in the end zone to end the first Bears drive.

"There's no quarterback competition," Marshall said later. "And it was just tough for all of us. We all rallied around Jay coming back. We were excited about it. He led us in the fourth quarter. We'll do better and clean it up next week."

Cutler threw for 265 yards on 22 of 31 passing and had a passer rating of 102.2, his third-highest rating of the year. The three touchdowns matched his season high, and the Bears converted 9 of 14 third downs (64 percent).

Nevertheless, Cutler admitted he needed to gauge teammates and see how they felt about the decision that he would start over McCown, who had a 109.8 passer rating after Cutler suffered a high ankle sprain.

"I felt the need to talk to some people before," he said. "I talked to B (Marshall), I talked to Matt (Forte), I talked to some linemen, just to let them know because I don't know how they feel, although I had a good feeling how they'd react. No one flinched. Everyone was all in on me."

Several reports citing unnamed sources before the game had said players were divided on whether they thought it was a wise move. Whether this actually was the case or not, Cutler admitted to feeling pressure going into the game.

"I think I'd be lying if I didn't say I was, with everything on the outside (media reports) and as well as Josh played," he said. "But this was the plan all along. No one really flinched in our building."

Just seeing Cutler openly discuss feeling pressure and handling it, and that he sought out opinions from teammates were refreshing changes from a player who often has been difficult to decipher in the past. It showed an openness on different levels that could be a unifying factor going forward.

"I think that's the atmosphere that they want to create, that Trest wants to create, that (general manager) Phil Emery wants to create, (board chairman) George McCaskey," Cutler said. "I think that's kind of what direction we want to go in, having an open locker room; players, coaches all in on this.

"We've all got to be in and we've all got to make that happen."

--The combination of Brandon Marshall-Alshon Jeffery is now the best ever for a season for a Bears receiving duo. Their total of 170 catches (80 Jeffery, 90 Marshall) for 2,450 yards (1,265 Jeffery, 1,185 Marshall) has beaten out the 2,347 by Marcus Robinson (1,400) and Bobby Engram (2,347) in 1999.

The real surprise remains Jeffery, who blossomed after just 24 catches in his injury-marred 2012 rookie season.

"We saw his work ethic and we saw him making plays in practice," Trestman said. "And you never really know. You're not tackling in practice. You're in shorts most of the time. You don't know that this is going to happen. You don't really envision it."

Jeffery's trademark has become the jump-ball catches, like the 45-yard game-tying fourth-quarter touchdown catch he made against the Browns on Sunday. Cutler didn't even see the catch as he was knocked down on a play that drew a roughing-the-passer penalty

"Somehow it got down there and Alshon did what Alshon does best," Cutler said.

Trestman said it's difficult to gauge how much of what Jeffery has done is due to defenses overplaying Marshall.

"You just never know," he said. "The object in the passing game is to find the single-covered guy and put your guys in a position to be able to win against that single-covered guy. I can say that I don't think Brandon has been double-covered as much as he was early in the season, but how much I can't say."

--CB Charles Tillman is done for the season due to his torn triceps. The team had originally put him on injured reserve with the right to bring him back after the regular season for the playoffs. Tillman would have been eligible to begin practicing this week to return for a playoff run, but his injury did not heal at the rate expected. Zack Bowman, who had two interceptions Sunday, has been starting in Tillman's place since the injury occurred Nov. 10 against Detroit.

--LB Lance Briggs will practice this week and his status for Sunday's game will be announced by Trestman at that point. Chances appear favorable for his return from the shoulder fracture that has kept him out since Oct. 20.

"It's going to be day to day," Trestman said. "I'm reasonable optimistic, but it's going to be through the three days of practice before a decision's made."
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