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Columnist
Cutler survives, thrives thanks to Tice, Martz
By Barry Rozner | Daily Herald Columnist
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Published: 9/19/2010 8:39 PM

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Never mind Julius Peppers or Chester Taylor.

Those two big-name free agents haven't done much thus far, but one acquisition receiving a lot less attention may have saved the season Sunday.

His name is Mike Tice.

With Jay Cutler getting one of the all-time beatings in the first quarter Sunday in Dallas, Tice - the offensive line coach - watched left tackle Chris Williams hobble off the field with a hamstring injury.

His replacement, Kevin Shaffer, immediately took a false start penalty and allowed Cutler to get hit very hard twice.

Not only were the Bears headed for disaster, but Cutler was also headed for an ambulance.

Yet, in the middle of all that mayhem, Tice calmly flipped Shaffer with right tackle Frank Omiyale, moving Omiyale to left tackle and sending Shaffer to the other side.

And that changed the entire day - and maybe the 2010 season.

The way it was going early Sunday, there was no way Cutler was going to survive the game, let alone the entire schedule.

He was hit eight times in the first quarter if you include the plays wiped out by penalties, and why wouldn't you? Just because the play doesn't count, it doesn't mean the hit doesn't hurt.

But from there Cutler was hit only four more times, in part because the Bears' protection was much better, and in part because offensive coordinator Mike Martz began to take advantage of the Cowboys' aggressiveness.

Late in the first quarter, rather than waiting for Cutler to get pounded, they got the ball out of his hands quickly on a short pass to Devin Hester that went for 19 yards, and then another fast toss over the middle to tight end Greg Olsen on a busted coverage good for 39 yards and a touchdown.

The Bears had a 10-7 lead and a chance to breathe with Cutler still alive and clicking.

After that, it was all about Cutler. He was fabulous for the second straight week, looking like an entirely different player from the 2009 QB who was not only bad but clueless as well.

Cutler, 5-0 with the Bears when he doesn't throw a pick, looks confident and much more careful with the football this season.

And if the Bears can keep him off his back, and he continues to throw it to the correct jersey - or throw it away when he has no play, as he did Sunday - this could be the exciting offense you knew was possible when Martz arrived on the scene.

The thing Martz and Cutler have in common is they're fearless, and that's a fabulous trait to have in a coordinator and a quarterback, but that's also not going to matter if they can't keep Cutler upright.

Those two know they can turn a drive or a game around in a heartbeat, and that play occurred Sunday with about six minutes left in the second quarter of the Bears' 27-20 victory over the Cowboys.

With the Bears trailing 14-10, and on a third-and-15 that seemed like a recipe for Cutler to get smoked again, Cutler dropped back and with great protection threw a strike to Johnny Knox on a fly for 59 yards.

Three plays later the Bears had a 17-14 lead and suddenly Cutler looked like the quarterback Chicago thought it was getting last year but never saw in 2009.

A huge factor last year was his dislike of the Ron Turner offense and his lack of a relationship not only with Turner but with several other offensive coaches.

That caused GM Jerry Angelo to force some changes on Lovie Smith's staff, changes that now find Cutler dialed in with Martz.

Cutler also likes and respects the men with whom he's working, and after Sunday he can trust the fact that Tice will do whatever he can with the questionable talent available on the line to keep Cutler out of the hospital.

So, yes, the Bears are 2-0 and the head coach is crowing like the genius he believes he is, always a pleasant feeling for a Bears fan.

But don't let Smith spoil your enjoyment or distract from a perfect start, with time now to ponder the 2-0 Packers headed to town for a wild Monday night affair at Soldier Field.

And no matter how Smith tries to take credit for all things Bears, this was all about Cutler absorbing some big punches, Martz adjusting on the fly, and Tice making something out of nothing on the offensive line.

There's still good reason to fear for Cutler's safety, but at least he's got an extra day to heal up this week.

And Tice has an extra day to think about how to get his QB through another game.

• Listen to Barry Rozner from 9 a.m. to noon Sundays on the Score's "Hit and Run" show at WSCR 670-AM.