Regardless of the won-lost record, no Bears season is ever considered a total washout as long as it comes with at least one win over the Packers.
Jay Cutler can find out Sunday at Soldier Field if the same is true for individuals, when he gets an opportunity to atone for his inauspicious Bears debut that included four Packers interceptions in the season opener.
Unfortunately for the Bears, Cutler's performance was a sign of things to come. He's thrown 16 more picks since then and is tied with Lions rookie Matthew Stafford for the NFL lead with 20.
Last week against the Rams was the first time in eight games that Cutler wasn't picked off at least once, and the hope is that he's getting better.
But has he improved?
"That's up for debate, maybe," Cutler said. "It's been a long year. It's been a lot of ups and downs. I'm really not going to go back and look at all the games we've made mistakes. We have to concentrate on Green Bay this week and just getting better this week."
Cutler was better against the Rams, but a 1-11 team isn't much of a measuring stick. Still, his 96.0 passer rating was his highest in four weeks and only his second mark above 79.6 in the past eight weeks. For the season, Cutler's 75.3 passer rating is 22nd in the league.
By comparison, the Packers' Aaron Rodgers is fourth in the league with a passer rating of 103.3. He's been below 85.0 in only two of 12 games this season and has thrown just seven interceptions all season.
Cutler managed to throw for 277 yards in the first matchup, but the Packers' defense has improved considerably as it's adjusted to playing a 3-4 defense after switching from a 4-3 in the offseason. The 8-4 Packers have won four straight, and their defense is No. 1 in the NFL in yards allowed and ranks in the top five in rushing yards (4), average gain per rush (2), passing yards (3) and average gain per pass (4) allowed. The Packers are also No. 2 in interceptions and No. 6 in third-down efficiency.
One advantage the 5-7 Bears will have is a greater familiarity with the Packers' new scheme and how they play it. They didn't have much to go off in the season opener.
"It was tough that first game with a new defensive coordinator (Dom Capers)," Cutler said. "He didn't really show what exactly they were going to do with the 3-4, so there were a lot of unknowns. This time around there is a lot more film on them, so we're going to get a better read on them."
The Bears have seen enough of Packers cornerback Charles Woodson to know they want nothing to do with the 33-year-old, 12-year veteran. The five-time Pro Bowl pick is mentioned in any intelligent discussion about defensive player of the year. He's tied for third in the NFL with seven interceptions, leads the Packers with four forced fumbles and is third with 63 tackles.
"He's one of the top guys in the NFL right now," Cutler said. "He's playing some of the best ball, probably, in his career."
Even the Bears' cornerbacks are impressed by Woodson's play.
"Woodson is a beast," Zack Bowman said. "I watched him on Thanksgiving. I watched him on Monday night, and he still has it. He's making plays."
The Packers' other cornerback, Tramon Williams, has had his problems, although he had one of the Pack's picks against Cutler and tacked on a 67-yard return. But Williams was flagged three times for pass interference Monday night in Green Bay's 27-14 victory over the Ravens, for a total of 106 yards in penalties.
According to Cutler, the Bears must take some shots down the field, especially against Green Bay defensive backs who love to play tight press coverage.
"You definitely have to attack them," Cutler said. "If you don't, they're just going to beat you up all day. There were some times in the first game where we took some shots. Johnny [Knox] got behind them once [for a 68-yard catch]. We're going to take what they give us. If they want to come up and press us, then we'll definitely [get] some opportunities to run past them."
NOTES AND QUOTES
Williams was filling in for Lance Briggs (sprained knee), who had the previous highs for the Bears this season with 17 total tackles against the 49ers and 11 solos against the Bengals.
"Jamar Williams really stepped up and played well," coach Lovie Smith said. "You expect some of your backups who have been here for a while to play that way when they get an opportunity. He really made plays in the running game, passing game and [all-around]."
Williams also had two pass breakups and earned more playing time in the final four games of the season, even after Briggs returns, which is expected to be this week against the Packers at Soldier Field.
"We go on production," Smith said. "By his play, it said, 'I need more reps.' We listen and we watch everything that happens, and we liked everything that we saw from him."
So did Williams' teammates.
"Jamar was all over the place," defensive end Alex Brown said. "He deserves a lot of credit for coming out and replacing a guy like Lance Briggs, who is probably the best player at his position in the NFL. It says a lot about the guys we have as far as backups. Jamar can definitely step up and be a playmaker for us. Hopefully we see a lot more of him."
Then, Brown quickly added. "We still want Briggs." ...
Defensive end Gaines Adams, who cost the Bears a 2010 second-round draft choice, was inactive Sunday after having a total of no solo tackles and two assists in his first six games.
"I'm not disappointed in Gaines at all," Smith said. "As far as him not playing, we were playing a running football team. I just felt like Jarron Gilbert gave us a little bit more as far as stopping the run. Just look at the guys we're playing right now. There are good football players in front of him. He's a part of the mix. We have a lot of players that we feel comfortable playing. But Gaines will have his day. He's a good football player, and we're pleased with the progress he's making. Each week is different." ...
Cutler said after Sunday's game that he "dinged" his hand when he was hit by Rams defensive end Leonard Little in the second quarter. Cutler threw just seven passes in the second half, Smith said his hand wasn't the reason.
"Going through any game, a quarterback will get dinged from time to time, will take some hits," Smith said. "But we had a lead, our defense was playing good football, and you try to win the surest way. It was no more than that. Jay should be good to go and effective."
QUOTE TO NOTE
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