Regular-season finale could define QB

Quarterback Jay Cutler warms up before the Bears' game against the Packers on Dec. 16 at Soldier Field
Quarterback Jay Cutler warms up before the Bears' game against the Packers on Dec. 16 at Soldier Field

LAKE FOREST – On a cool September afternoon in 2008, Brandon Marshall stood in the Denver Broncos’ huddle and waited for Jay Cutler to arrive with the play call.

The Broncos trailed by a touchdown with 4:22 to go in the fourth quarter against the San Diego Chargers. The ball sat at the Denver 20-yard line, 80 yards from the end zone.

As Cutler arrived and started to speak, Marshall barely could believe his ears.

“The first thing he says when he comes in the huddle – he gives us the two-point play,” Marshall said with a smile this week at Halas Hall. “He told us we were going to win, and he told us we were going to go for two.”

A few minutes later, Cutler proved to be correct. He led a 12-play drive that culminated with a 4-yard touchdown pass to Eddie Royal with 29 seconds remaining, and he connected with Royal for a two-point conversion to lift the Broncos to a 39-38 win against their rivals.

“That’s the type of guy Jay is,” Marshall said. “Very confident guy. Hand stays steady. Never wavers from the mission. I love playing with him.”

Cutler’s latest defining moment will come Sunday against the Detroit Lions.

The Bears (9-6) need to beat the Lions (4-11) to keep alive their postseason hopes, and they need Green Bay to beat Minnesota a few hours later to clinch a playoff berth.

It’s the type of big game that helps to define a quarterback.

A win (and some help from the Packers) could push Cutler into the playoffs for the second time in his seven-year career. A loss would increase questions about his ability to win.

Cutler acknowledged that quarterbacks were measured in situations such as these.

“We’ve got to win,” said Cutler, who has led the Bears to a 33-22 record as a starter during the regular season but has appeared in only two playoff games. “There’s nothing else to be said about it. And quarterback play, these are games you’ve got to have.”

As for Cutler’s teammates, they believe he is the quarterback the Bears need to have.

Bears center Roberto Garza played alongside quarterbacks Rex Grossman and Kyle Orton before Cutler joined the team in 2009. Garza said Cutler was a winning quarterback, but he needed reliable protection from the offensive line to play his best.

“We’ve seen what he’s able to do when we give him time,” Garza said. “That’s up to us to give him that time to show off his skills and take advantage of the players that we have in the receiver position and tight end position and running back position.

“We have a lot of great guys out there, and when we give him time, he shows what kind of quarterback he is. That’s the guy that we want back there.”

Come Sunday, he’s the guy who will lead the offense to a big win or a devastating loss.

Bears bits: Brian Urlacher practiced on a limited basis for the first time since he injured his hamstring Dec. 2, but coach Lovie Smith downplayed questions about Urlacher’s possible return Sunday at Detroit. “It’s not like he went full speed,” Smith said. Urlacher was listed as doubtful on the official injury report. … Safety Chris Conte (hamstring) and linebacker Blake Costanzo (calf) were ruled out for Sunday’s game. … The Bears waived defensive end Cheta Ozougwu and promoted running back Harvey Unga to the 53-man roster.

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