Cutler has chance to outduel another top QB

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NEW ORLEANS (AP) — After all the flack Jay Cutler took at the end of last season, he now has a shot to start the 2011 campaign with victories over a pair of quarterbacks with far superior reputations.

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — After all the flack Jay Cutler took at the end of last season, he now has a shot to start the 2011 campaign with victories over a pair of quarterbacks with far superior reputations.

First came Atlanta’s Matt Ryan, who despite his youth has become one of the most respected and feared quarterbacks in the NFL. On Sunday, the Bears (1-0) play at New Orleans (0-1), where Drew Brees has been practically deified (some fans even call him Breesus).

Cutler’s 312 yards passing and two touchdowns were more than enough to lead the Bears to a dominant 30-12 victory over the Falcons last weekend.

Given that his toughness and character were questioned by fans and even fellow NFL players after he took himself out of last season’s NFC title game, one can only wonder whether Cutler covets a chance to open this season by beating two straight teams whose quarterbacks boast golden-boy images.

It’s tough to know for sure because Cutler expressed little interest in addressing the topic.

"I am not really worried about what happens outside of our building," Cutler said. "As long as the guys in my locker room are OK, I will be the same.

"I don’t really worry about what other locker rooms feel about me," he added. "This is a team game. I would love to see us go 2-0 and just get our season started right."

If that happens, it should only fuel Chicago fans’ hope that Cutler and the Bears can make another deep playoff run. The Bears expect to have star linebacker Brian Urlacher in the lineup just days after his mother died suddenly.

New Orleans, by contrast, will enter a funk that has nothing to do with its renowned music scene or the smell of Bourbon Street on a hot, humid day.

Although the Saints provided a thrilling show on opening night in Green Bay last week, they still came up short. Another loss in the home opener would drop them to 0-2 for the first time since 2007, when they missed the playoffs.

One key concern for the Saints is their defense, which gave up five touchdowns in a 42-34 loss to the Packers.

In all, Green Bay racked up 399 yards from scrimmage, including 109 against an interior defensive line that was supposed to be shored up after the free-agent acquisitions of tackles Shaun Rogers and Aubrayo Franklin.

The Saints also yielded 296 yards passing to Aaron Rodgers, in part because of missed tackles leading to more yards after the catch.

"It’s frustrating, but at the same time, that is a great offense and a great quarterback we played," Saints free safety Malcolm Jenkins said. "But we’re moved on from that, and we’re excited about this game, to be back home in front of our crowd and really put on a display."

To do that, the Saints will have to prove they can contain versatile running back Matt Forte, who knows the Louisiana Superdome as well as anyone after starring there for Tulane. He gave Atlanta fits last week with 90 yards receiving and 68 yards rushing.

"He is a guy that really makes things work for us," Cutler said. "You take him out of our lineup, we’re going to have a hard time functioning, (given) his ability to be an every-down back and go out there and catch the ball and run the ball in between the tackles, outside the tackles and pick up blitzes."

Only if the Saints stop Forte will they be able to dial up more pressure on Cutler and perhaps force him into being the mistake-prone quarterback he was in his turbulent first season in Chicago.

Yet Bears coach Lovie Smith seems confident that Cutler is only going to get better the longer he plays in the Bears’ system, given the improvement he showed from his first season in 2009 to 2010, as well as the way he has looked since 2011 training camp began.

"He did a super job of getting himself ready for the season," Smith said. "He was the first guy in the building for training camp. He had good training camp practices and he hasn’t been an issue. He’s our leader. He’s our quarterback. He knows all quarterbacks in the league have to play well for your team to have success, and he led us. He made all the right moves this past week."

Even Brees, who has thrown for more yards (23,337) and TDs (158) than any quarterback during the past five seasons, and who is the unquestioned leader in the Saints’ locker room, warned that Cutler should not be underestimated just because he seems to have a lot of critics.

"One thing he does pretty well is, he seems like a guy who can overcome the adversity, put a lot of the distractions aside and play football," Brees said. "He has some weapons around him offensively. They have a great defense, so they have all the makings for a great team. He understands that. He understands his role on the team."

Whether Cutler will ever alter his image remains to be seen, and it’s difficult to tell whether he really cares. Even off the field, his character has come under public scrutiny, particularly during his relationship with reality TV star Kristin Cavallari, which ended when he called off their engagement shortly before their wedding day this summer.

Maybe he’s not the marrying type. If the Bears beat the Saints, though, Cutler will look increasingly like the winning type.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.

(AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh, File)

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