GREEN BAY, Wis. – As Jay Cutler looked down field in the third quarter Thursday, he saw teammate Brandon Marshall wide open and sprinting toward the end zone.
Cutler led Marshall with a pass over both of his shoulders that no Packers player could defend. Marshall extended his long arms and placed both hands on the ball, only to watch as he let the ball drop to the turf for yet another drive that ended without a touchdown.
Even during a play that developed perfectly, the Bears found a way to mess up.
Bottom line: The Bears’ offense was not ready for prime time in a 23-10 loss to Green Bay.
“We have to keep our composure in those times,” Bears coach Lovie Smith said. “We’re better than we showed tonight.”
It would have been tough to look worse.
The NFL Network won’t know until today how many viewers watched Thursday’s broadcast, but it’s a safe bet that players, coaches and front-office personnel from the other 30 teams in the NFL – including the other two teams in the NFC North – took mental notes as they watched the game from across the nation. One week after the Bears dominated the Indianapolis Colts with an explosive new-look offense, the group’s worst flaws re-emerged in front of a hostile crowd and against a Super Bowl-caliber team at Lambeau Field.
The Packers offered a familiar blueprint for how to stymie the Bears’ talent-laden offense.
Blitz from multiple angles. Be physical in the secondary. And wait as Cutler loses patience.
Cutler absorbed seven sacks and threw four interceptions in a nightmare performance that conjured memories of his four-pick debut in a Bears uniform in 2009. He registered a miserable 28.2 passer rating, which was his second-worst mark in 43 starts with the Bears.
Whenever Cutler wasn’t on his back, he seemed to be screaming at linemen for botched plays or at officials for noncalls. He held firm when questioned about his actions, explaining that he would not and could not act as if everything were OK when it was not.
“I care about this,” Cutler said. “This isn’t just a hobby to me.”
It’s a safe bet that St. Louis Rams coach Jeff Fisher, who crafted nasty defenses in Tennessee, will play highlights of the Bears’ mistakes before his team visits Soldier Field in Week 3. Fisher will not have to wait long to see how the Packers prompted Cutler to unravel.
Cutler’s clean streak lasted all of one play before Packers linebacker D.J. Smith blitzed through the middle of the line, bounced off of Matt Forte’s block and dumped Cutler to the ground. Several minutes later, Packers linebacker Clay Matthews beat Bears guard Chris Spencer and joined forces with linebacker Erik Walden to drop Cutler for a 10-yard loss.
As the Packers applied pressure, Cutler’s footwork deteriorated.
On the opening series of the second half, Cutler lobbed a pass toward Kellen Davis with all of his weight on his back foot instead of stepping forward to deliver a crisp throw. The ball sailed predictably, but Packers safety Jerron McMillian dropped a surefire interception.
Other mistakes came with stiffer penalties as Tramon Williams (2), Charles Woodson (1) and McMillian (1) each feasted on Cutler’s discomfort to make interceptions.
The NFL has evolved into a pass-first league, and the Bears finally embraced the trend during the offseason by surrounding Cutler with big targets such as Marshall and Alshon Jeffery. But the Bears ran out of time and money before they could bolster the line, and Cutler’s new weapons largely went unused as Green Bay defenders went unblocked.
Cutler did not complete a pass to Marshall until 7:20 remained in the game. By that point, the Packers had built a 20-point lead in front of more than 70,000 boisterous fans who showered the Bears with derisive cheers during a fourth-quarter timeout.
A family friendly version of their message: The Bears still stink.
At 1-1, more than enough time remains for the Bears to respond.
It’s up to them to make it happen.