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Styf: Time is now for Cutler to show he can

Peyton Manning and Jay Cutler proved the same thing last season.

In the NFL, quarterback means everything.

Teams that don’t have a good one are fighting for position to pick one next year.

It’s how Akili Smith happens. And David Carr. And Ryan Leaf.

Teams are willing to forfeit everything for a franchise QB. And they’re willing to take chances, turning a blind eye to obvious issues like Tim Tebow’s lack of an arm on the slim chance they can change it.

The Bears did it three years ago to land Jay Cutler. The Colts fell flat on their faces to end up with Andrew Luck.

Now, Cutler and Luck have to prove their teams right.

And at 29, Cutler is running out of time.

He has the weapons. He still doesn’t have the line. But if he doesn’t do it now, it won’t happen.

People way smarter than me – like NFL film study guru Greg Cosell – believe Cutler’s a top 10 QB. But to be elite he’s got to win, and in big spots.

Outside of 2010, and his four-touchdown (two running) win over the Seahawks, he hasn’t sustained that.

He needs to lead and win consistently, with fewer mistakes.

And the reunion with Brandon Marshall and addition of a speedy, stretch-the-field receiver like Alshon Jeffery along with one of the best backfields in the game should give him that chance.

He has the arm. And he’s fearless. He just has to go out and do it.

Part of what separates Cutler from the true elite is perception. A QB like Manning is considered near-genius on the field. He knows the offense, manipulates it to his choosing and sits back and picks apart defenses like they aren’t even trying.

The past two seasons, the Bears have had room for only one genius in the offensive meeting rooms, and that was Mike Martz.

Under Mike Tice, Cutler will get more of a chance to prove he can be the guy, taking more ownership of what happens on the field and being less restricted by an overly intricate play-calling system that many times seemed too complex for anyone outside of God or Kurt Warner to operate.

Which gets back to my original point about Cutler meaning everything to the Bears. Both times he was hurt the past two seasons, the Bears’ chances were shot. I know that’s subject to debate in the 2010 NFC title game, but a healthy Cutler certainly would have given the Bears a better shot than Todd Collins or Caleb Hanie.

Elite quarterbacks go out and prove that.

The pick: It’s easy to say a Bears team, hoping for a run at a title, is going to go out and pummel a Colts team that was worst in the league last season.

But the reality is that Indianapolis is much-changed and much-improved with Luck, a guy who eventually is going to be one of the league’s best, barring catastrophic injury.

It’s going to be closer than most Bears fans would like, but I see them pulling out a victory. If they don’t, they will be staring down an 0-2 start quick.

Bears 24, Colts 21

• Jon Styf is Northwest Herald sports editor. Write to him at jstyf@shawmedia.com.

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