Cutler lifts Bears to Divisional win over Seahawks, sets up rematch with Packers

Chicago Bears’ quarterback Jay Cutler celebrates after his touchdown pass to teammate Kellen Davis in the fourth quarter of play against the Seattle Seahawks during their NFC Divisional NFL playoff football game in Chicago, January 16, 2011. REUTERS/Frank Polich (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

Here are five thoughts on the Bears’ impressive 35-24 victory over the Seahawks in the Divisional Round on Sunday.

1. What inexperience?
Jay Cutler did Sunday what Joe Flacco and Matt Ryan couldn’t this weekend: Elevate his game when it mattered most. For all the talk about his lack of postseason experience, Cutler played like a 10-year playoff veteran on Sunday. He set the tone early with a picture-perfect 58-yard touchdown pass to Greg Olsen on the Bears’ third offensive play from scrimmage and then showed pure grit and determination on his 6-yard touchdown run in the second quarter. On the day, he was 15-of-28 passing for 274 yards with four touchdowns (two passing, two rushing) and zero interceptions (although he came close to throwing a couple of picks, including one at the goal line). Cutler has really put a lot of his past troubles behind him and deserves praise for his unflappable play on Sunday. He was highly impressive.

2. Cutler also got a lot of help from his offensive line.
The Bears’ O-line has taken a lot of heat for its play over the last couple of years, and deservedly so. But they’ve been a transformed unit since midway through the season and a lot of credit goes to Mike Tice and Lovie Smith for moving guys around to better match their strengths (and quite frankly, hide their weaknesses, too). Cutler was excellent but he also had plenty of time to survey the field and pick apart Seattle’s overmatched secondary. His front five did an outstanding job swallowing the Seahawks’ pass-rushers and keeping them out of the backfield.

3. That’s Bear defense right there.
The final score doesn’t do the Bears justice. Their defense played out of its mind for three quarters and that’s about as aggressive as I’ve seen Chicago’s secondary play all season. Unlike other teams who like to play their corners 10 yards off the ball and give opponents easy yards via slants and screens, the Bears’ DBs suffocated Seattle’s wideouts all afternoon. Granted, nobody outside of Brandon Stokley fought back, but credit still goes to the Bears’ corners for bringing the fight to them right from the start. Once again, Julius Peppers failed to record a sack but he got pressure on Hasselbeck all day. You have to focus on him to really appreciate what he does for that defense. He helped paved the way for fellow linemen like Tommie Harris, who did rack up two sacks. Without a doubt, J-Pepp was worth the money the Bears spent this offseason.

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Ten Surprises from Week 1 in the NFL

Who would have thought that Jay Cutler’s debut for the Bears would go so poorly? How about Jake Delhomme picking up right where he left off in last year’s playoffs? The 49ers beat the Cardinals on the road?!

Below are 10 surprises from Week 1 in the NFL. Feel free to add what surprised you in our comments section.

1. Cutler’s atrocious Bears debut.
When Chicago acquired quarterback Jay Cutler from the Broncos this offseason, fans immediately started believing that their Bears were a legitimate Super Bowl contender. After all, the only thing that had held this team back over the years was not having a franchise quarterback. Now that the Bears had one in Cutler, the sky was the limit. Given the lofty expectations that fans had for the Bears, Cutler’s debut Sunday night in Green Bay was startling. The numbers were bad enough: 17 of 36, 277 yards, 1 TD, 4 INTs. But it was Cutler’s demeanor during the game that was most troubling. He constantly threw across his body into traffic, was rarely on the same page as his receivers and it appeared as though he flat out stopped trying after throwing his third pick of the night. Granted, there’s still a lot of time left. But nobody expected Cutler to get off to this bad of a start.

2. Miami shoots itself in the foot.
Even though Atlanta’s defense rose to the challenge on Sunday, it was still quite surprising to see the Dolphins routinely beat themselves with costly turnovers and dumb penalties. Early in the second quarter, Miami drove to the Falcons’ 16-yard line only to have tight end Anthony Fasano fumble after receiving a bone crunching hit from Mike Peterson. Cornerback Brian Williams returned the gift 53 yards and Atlanta capitalized with a Jason Elam 36-yard field goal. Midway through the third, the Dolphins again drove into Atlanta territory, but quarterback Chad Pennington didn’t see Peterson waiting in the flats and was picked off by the linebacker. The Falcons again capitalized, this time on a Matt Ryan to Tony Gonzalez 20-yard touchdown pass to give them a 16-0 lead. On Miami’s very next series, Fasano fumbled again, only this time Elam missed a 38-yard field goal. Later in the fourth, the Dolphins had a touchdown taken off the board after offensive lineman Vernon Carey was called for holding. This was a Miami team that won the AFC East last year because they did all the little things right. They never hurt themselves with mistakes and always capitalized on their opponents’ miscues. But the opposite happened on Sunday and considering Tony Sparano’s team isn’t talented enough to overcome turnovers and penalties, the Dolphins can’t have what happened in Atlanta become a routine occurrence.

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Stokley’s circus catch gives Broncos last-second win over Bengals

For 59 minutes and 32 seconds, the Broncos and Bengals played the most boring game of Week 1. Then Cincinnati cornerback Leon Hall forgot that batting the ball straight up in the air is a horrible idea.

Check out this crazy touchdown by Brandon Stokley to give Denver an improbable 12-7 victory over the Bengals on Sunday:

At first, I disagreed with the commentator who said that Hall could have intercepted Kyle Orton’s horrid pass. It looked like he jumped at his highest point and while falling backwards, he tried to knock the ball down and instead batted it straight up.

But upon further review, Hall could have picked off the pass had he positioned his body better when the ball was in the air. Or at the very least, he should have been able to knock the ball down instead of doing his best impression of a volleyball setter by batting the football up.

Either way, this was a heartbreaking loss for the Bengals. They didn’t play a clean game, but they should have had this win locked up after Cedric Benson scored on a one-yard touchdown run with 38 seconds remaining. Plus, on the play before Stokley’s circus catch, Cincinnati had intercepted Orton but the defender couldn’t stay in bounds while he was coming down with the football. The Bengals had several opportunities to start the 2009 season 1-0 but they fell victim to a fluke play.

It was a cheap win, but Josh McDaniels will take it after all the crap he went through (some of it he created himself) this summer with Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall.

Brandon Marshall tries to make political statement during game

Brandon Marshall explains his attempt to make a political statement in support of Barack Obama during the Broncos’ 34-30 win over the Browns on NFL Network Thursday night.

One blogger at sums up the situation pretty well:

Well done on Stokely’s part, showing the awareness and intelligence that Marshall seemed to completely disregard in his zeal to play politics during a football game. Celebrating Barack Obama’s victory is something that can be done on one’s own time, and probably shouldn’t be something that is planned on the company’s dime. I’m not sure why anyone would feel that it’s ok for athletes to make these sorts of political statements when they are “at work,” but I’m sure if anyone in a normal job were to celebrate election results at work in a way that could potentially damage the company, it would result in punitive action.

Is there a reason that athletes feel the need to abuse the public stage to express political views? I’m certainly not suggesting they be censored, but I do believe a certain amount of discretion should be considered, and I’m not sure that I see that in sports today.

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