Whether or not the 5-5 Broncos can outlast San Diego and make the playoffs will depend on Cutler, who is making strides in the middle of his second season.
"I thought Jay has done a great job of managing the game," Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said. "I think he is continuing through this process, and continue his learning experience. He works at it and puts in a lot of great effort and shows a lot of poise."
Cutler completed a career-best 76.2 percent of his passes against Tennessee. He became the first Broncos quarterback since John Elway in 1995 to throw two touchdown passes of at least 40 yards in the same game.
But Cutler has also impressed his teammates with his strides off the field. After Denver fell to 3-5 with a 44-7 loss at Detroit, Cutler was counseled by veteran team leaders like safety John Lynch, receiver Rod Smith and cornerback Champ Bailey. They told him he had to take more of a vocal leadership role.
"They wanted me to be a little more vocal, a little more of a leader," Cutler said. "The last two or three weeks, I've tried to. The guys have responded."
Lynch said he knew it would not be easy for Cutler to take on that role. He started only five games last year, and is still a very young player.
"There's a time when younger guys have to come out of that comfort zone a little," Lynch said. "It's not always comfortable. And realize that people are looking to them. We told him not to force it, be himself but know people are looking to you."
Even though Cutler is a captain, he admitted it would be difficult to take on a new role.
"It's hard to just jump into a role like that and start barking out commands, because you're not going to get a lot of respect doing that," Cutler said.
Cutler said he has been comfortable with it the past couple of weeks. To continue to progress as a leader, the results on the field have to remain strong.
"Respect, you've got to earn that," Cutler said. "You've got to go out and play well each and every week and eventually those leaders and those veteran guys will start believing in you."
So far this season, Cutler has been pretty good. Although Monday was his best game, and probably opened a lot of eyes around the nation, Cutler has been pretty good since taking over as Denver's starter. In 15 career starts, he has 3,083 yards passing, 20 touchdowns and 14 interceptions.
"Personally, I've thrown a few more interceptions than I thought I would, but I'm learning still," Cutler said.
--Since 1984, the Broncos have played at Chicago only once. And that game came two years before Mike Shanahan took over as Denver's head coach. In 1993, the Broncos won at Soldier Field, and haven't been back.
--Denver could be getting some help on offense for the final six games of the season. Receiver Javon Walker, who hasn't played since Week 3, practiced for the first time since knee surgery in October. The Broncos think he will be ready to go on Sunday.
"If I can come out here and run some good routes against these guys, these (defensive backs), I'm pretty sure I'll be ready to go on Sunday," Walker said.
--The Broncos were unsure in the middle of the week who would be running the ball for them against Chicago. Travis Henry and Selvin Young each missed practice with knee injuries Wednesday. Andre Hall would play if Henry and Young can't.
"It'll be day by day," Shanahan said. "I really don't know at this time."
--The Broncos were still waiting on Wednesday to hear the NFL's final ruling on Henry's appeal to the NFL over a one-year suspension. Henry was informed of his failed drug test on Sept. 4, according to court records, but unless the NFL announces a decision late in the week, he'll be available to the team for at least its first 11 games.
The Broncos were awaiting word on the appeal, which they hope Henry can win.
"It's something we've been expecting," Shanahan said on the day of the appeal. "We understand the procedures and have to deal with it."
BY THE NUMBERS: 1 -- Time in Broncos history they have had four touchdowns of 40 or more yards in the same game, a feat they accomplished against Tennessee on Monday night.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "All we have to do is handle ourselves, do our jobs and we'll be all right." -- WR Brandon Marshall.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
If Selvin Young is limited at tailback because of a knee injury and Travis Henry remains out because of either an NFL suspension or his own knee injury, Andre Hall would take most of the carries and Cecil Sapp would likely be the backup. Sapp has played fullback for most of his pro career; he spent all offseason competing at tailback, a position he played in college. Hall broke a 62-yard touchdown against Tennessee, but has 46 yards on his other 14 pro carries.
PLAYER PERSONNEL NOTES
--DE Tim Crowder has at least one sack in two straight games. Crowder, a rookie, is a promising player for the Broncos and should have a good finish to a season that started slow because of a high-ankle sprain.
--CB Karl Paymah played a lot as Denver's nickel back, with Domonique Foxworth playing safety. Paymah, who was drafted ahead of Foxworth but hadn't played much on defense in his first two seasons, has earned increased confidence from the coaching staff.
--LB Ian Gold got an interception and forced a fumble against Tennessee. The Broncos need big plays from their linebackers, which haven't come often the past few years.
--RB Mike Bell was active and played on special teams against
Tennessee. Bell has been out of Denver's plans this season, but injuries at
running back could mean some more playing time on offense.
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