Cutler will try to lead the Bears to their fourth straight victory Sunday night when they visit Ryan and the Falcons, who are coming off a breakout offensive performance.
Ryan earned offensive rookie of the year honors in 2008, while leading the Falcons to their first postseason appearance in four years. He helped establish himself as a rising star in a 22-20 victory over Chicago on Oct. 12 of last season.
Chicago rallied from a nine-point deficit in the fourth quarter to take a one-point lead on Kyle Orton’s(notes) 17-yard touchdown pass to Rashied Davis(notes) with 11 seconds left. Ryan responded with a 26-yard completion to Michael Jenkins(notes) that set up Jason Elam’s(notes) 48-yard field goal as time expired.
The Bears went on to finish one victory short of a playoff berth.
“We still talk about it, 11 seconds on the clock and how we lost that game,” wide receiver Devin Hester(notes) said. “On this Sunday, we don’t want to have that feeling again when we walk off the field.”
On Sunday, though, Chicago (3-1) will start the only visiting quarterback to win at the Georgia Dome in nearly two years. Cutler, acquired in the offseason from Denver, led the Broncos to a 24-20 victory last Nov. 16 with a fourth-quarter touchdown drive.
The Falcons (3-1) have won five straight at home since that defeat, including consecutive victories to open this season, and are 10-1 in the Georgia Dome since Dec. 30, 2007.
“It’s a loud environment,” Cutler said. “Sunday night football, it will be even louder so we’ve got to protect the football. They’re a good defense. Matt Ryan, Michael Turner(notes), all those guys will try to do a good job. We’ve got to play our best ball.”
Cutler has played better since throwing a career-worst four interceptions in his Bears debut, a 21-15 loss at Green Bay on Sept. 13. He’s had just one pass picked off and thrown seven touchdowns in Chicago’s three straight victories.
“I think we’re on pace to where we want to be,” Cutler said.
He passed for just 141 yards in the Bears’ 48-24 home victory over Detroit on Oct. 4, but his two second-quarter touchdown passes helped the Bears keep pace in a tight first half. Chicago outscored the Lions 27-3 over the final 30 minutes to match its longest win streak of last season.
The Bears haven’t won four in a row since December 2006, en route to their last NFC title, but they should benefit from the rest of a bye week, something the Falcons know all about.
After losing in New England on Sept. 27, Atlanta emerged from its week off with a 45-10 thumping of NFC West-leading San Francisco.
White finished with a team-record 210 yards on eight receptions, including a 90-yard touchdown that started a string of 31 unanswered points.
The Falcons finished with 477 total yards of offense, their best output since amassing 533 against Detroit on Dec. 12, 2002. Michael Turner narrowly missed his second 100-yard rushing game of the season, gaining 97 on 22 carries.
“We did it today a little bit in the air and some on the ground,” Ryan said. “I feel like even doing what we did and scoring that many points, we can still get better.”
Turner, a Chicago-area native and Northern Illinois graduate, managed 54 yards on 25 attempts last November against the Bears - his second-worst performance since joining Atlanta prior to the 2008 season. He was second in the NFL with 106.2 rush yards per game in 2008, and ranks sixth this season with 80.8.
The Bears, meanwhile, have struggled to run the ball for much of this season. Matt Forte(notes) finished with 121 yards on 12 carries and scored his first touchdown in the win over the Lions, but 61 yards came on one run.
That one rush also accounts for nearly 17 percent of Chicago’s 366 rushing yards in 2009. The Bears rank 27th in the NFL with 91.5 rush yards per game.
Without Forte’s long run, that average would drop to 76.3, putting them ahead of only Houston, Arizona and San Diego. Forte has run for 271 yards this season after gaining 1,238 as a rookie.
Since their 1985 championship season, the Bears have won eight of 10 meetings with the Falcons. However, they are 2-2 at the Georgia Dome after last season’s bitter defeat.
“It was a big win, but that’s done. That was last year,” Ryan said. “They’re a different football team this year. We know how a tough team coming in, a tough matchup. We’re just doing what we can to get ready to play.”