After more than five months of hype and hyperbole, it's time to see how much quarterback Jay Cutler can improve a Bears offense that finished in the bottom quarter of the NFL last season.
Coach Lovie Smith says everything from the April 2 trade until now points to Cutler having a successful season.
"He's earned his stripes with the players in the locker room," Smith said. "Normally, the way you do that is just come in and not say a whole lot, go to work, and that's what Jay did. He's been super since Day 1. He's fit in well.
"But it's about performance, too. Guys will always give you a chance, but they need to see you in certain situations. They've had a chance to see Jay in every imaginable situation except for the regular season. When you get on the football field you have a chance to see exactly the type of player he is, and that helps a lot, too."
But no one outside the Bears' locker room believes Cutler has the wide receivers he needs to operate at peak efficiency. Sunday night's season opener on national TV against the Packers in Green Bay will be a good indication of how far young starters Devin Hester and Earl Bennett have come and how far they have to go.
The Packers' cornerback tandem of Al Harris and Charles Woodson has 24 years of NFL experience and a long history of shutting down even the most experienced wide receivers. That's a mismatch in favor of the Packers in most opinions.
"We don't really worry about what anybody else is saying about our receivers or tight ends or running backs," Cutler said. "We think we've got a good group. I have a lot of faith in those guys, and I know that they're very confident going into this one. As long as they go out there and do what they're supposed to do and execute the offense, we're not going to have any problems."
Hester and Bennett both have much to prove, but Cutler says he does, too.
"I've never been to the playoffs, never been to a Super Bowl," he said. "But it all starts Sunday. If we don't get that first one Sunday, we're going to have to come back and regroup. But we're looking forward to it. I think we're going to have a great shot at it."
Even though he's never been to Green Bay, Cutler realizes the enormity of the Bears-Packers rivalry and the 177 meetings that have preceded this one. But it's not his nature to be awestruck. He's 3-3 as a starter in prime time games, including 2-3 on Monday nights, and he's experienced some bitter rivalries.
"We got it going with the Chargers my last couple years in Denver," he said, "but this goes back a long time. Nothing really compares to this one. But it's a game no matter what time it is. It means a lot to us, it means a lot to them, it means a lot to the fans and it's going to be a fun one."
QB Jay Cutler
Getty Images: Doug Pensinger
Cutler said he was encouraged by the performance of his supporting cast in the third preseason game against the Broncos. The Bears faced a hostile crowd in a nationally-televised Sunday night game.
"The Denver week was great preparation for us to come into a Sunday night game against Green Bay," he said. "It wasn't a preseason atmosphere. It was more like an end-of-the-year atmosphere, and the guys reacted really well to it.
"We started off a little bit slow. They were doing a lot of stuff, which could happen in Green Bay. But once we got their looks down, guys started reacting and playing fast."
Asked if learned anything about his new teammates in the Broncos game, Cutler said: "That we're ready to go."
NEWS AND NOTES
Robbie Gould is the third-most-accurate field goal kicker in NFL history based on the minimum requirement of 100 kicks made, and he's second among active players.
Mike Vanderjagt, who played most of his games indoors with the Colts and Cowboys, is No. 1 at 86.5 percent (230 of 266). The Chargers' Nate Kaeding is second at 86.1 percent 118 of 137), and Gould is third at 85.9 percent (110 of 128).
"It would be awesome to be in the first spot," Gould said. "Obviously, I've got a lot more to do, a lot more to accomplish. But that's great to be in the top tier of kickers ever. I'm supposed to go out there and make kicks. That's my job. So if I miss kicks, then I'm not really helping the team out by doing my job."
If Gould makes his first six FG attempts this season, he would move into the top spot. …
In his fourth season in the NFL, wide receiver Devin Aromashodu is finally on a 53-man roster for the first week of the season.
For the first time, the practice-squad veteran didn't receive the dreaded phone call informing him that he would be cut. But it's still a nerve-racking time of the year when you're on the bubble and hoping that the phone doesn't ring.
The Bears informed his agent, Joel Segal, on Friday evening that he had had made the team, and Segal passed the good news on to Aromashodu, saving him 24 hours of anxiety before the final cuts were announced Saturday at 5 p.m.
"I didn't have to sweat it out the whole weekend," he said. "But I don't really relax now. I just know every day I have to keep getting better and continue to show them the reasons why I'm here. But it just feels good to know that I'm a part of the team." …
Nose tackle Anthony Adams was delighted to learn Sports Illustrated predicts the Bears to play in Super Bowl XLIV on Feb. 7 in Miami.
"I agree with that wholeheartedly," Adams said with a smile.
Then he was informed SI pegs the Bears to lose the Super Bowl to New England.
"I don't agree with that," he said. "I expect us to get there and win it."
Adams has yet to reach the playoffs in his six-year career. …
Danieal Manning has at least one kickoff return of 40 or more yards in six straight games, the longest streak in the NFL since 1970. …
The Bears have led the NFL in blocked kicks the past two seasons, with four in 2008 and eight in 2007.
QUOTE TO NOTE
"I think so. Aaron's a friend of mine. I talked to him the last couple days, so I know he's excited for this one. I want to win this one, he wants to win this one, but after this game I wish him the best." – Bears QB Jay Cutler when asked if his relationship with Packers QB Aaron Rodgers will be different than the adversarial relationship he had with Chargers QB Philip Rivers.
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