For Cutler, there's no receiver envy
There's no truth to the notion Jay Cutler will turn green with envy, if not Cardinals red, at the sight of the receivers on the other side when the Chicago Bears host Arizona on Sunday.
No offense to Larry Fitzgerald or Anquan Boldin, he likes what he has.
"I think we're fine in that area," Cutler said. "I think we have three or four very reliable if not above-average guys who can go out there and make things happen. They're a young group. I think that's may be their only fault, but they're not playing like they're young. They're doing good things out there."
And the Bears will need more of that if they're going to make a playoff run.
At 4-3, they're at an important point after a less-than-impressive 30-6 win over lowly Cleveland followed back-to-back losses to Atlanta and Cincinnati. Three of their next four games are against division leaders, starting with a visit by the defending NFC champion Cardinals (4-3), and they don't have much room for error in their quest to get back to the postseason after back-to-back misses.
It would help if they beat Arizona, the team on the receiving end of one of Chicago's most memorable wins in recent memory. That was three years ago, when the Bears rallied from 20 down at the half to win 24-23 and spark that memorable "The Bears are who we thought they were!" rant by then-Cardinals coach Dennis Green.
That team reached the Super Bowl. Now, the Bears are tough to figure.
Their offensive line isn't holding off defenders. Cutler is taking a beating, and drives inside the 20 are stalling, with their touchdown conversion rate at just 44.4 percent. So there certainly are issues. The wide receivers, however, are not on that list.
While Devin Hester, Earl Bennett and Johnny Knox have a ways to go before they're mentioned in the same breath as Fitzgerald, Boldin and Steve Breaston, they're at least backing up the Bears' decision not to bring in outside help.
Chicago reportedly backed out of talks for Boldin because Arizona wanted too much in return, and never made a strong push to add anyone else. Instead, the Bears went with one receiver (Hester) who had only one full season at the position, another (Bennett) who did not catch a pass as a rookie last year, and a third who is a rookie (Knox). The results?
Bennett has 334 yards and Knox is third among rookies with 24 receptions for 310 yards. Hester is establishing himself as a No. 1 receiver, and with 454 yards, he's on pace to finish with 1,038.
"I definitely see bigger things," coach Lovie Smith said. "He's learning. He hasn't been in the position long enough to have perfected it yet, but he gets a little bit closer each week."
If Hester needs a tutorial, all he has to do is look across the field Sunday, even if the Cardinals aren't getting the big plays that carried them to the Super Bowl last season.
"You're not going to get all the bounces or make all the plays, but we certainly had our share of opportunities to make plays that could affect games and we just haven't done that," coach Ken Whisenhunt said. "Hopefully, the worm will turn over the next nine games and we'll make our share of those plays."
After setting league records with 30 catches for 546 yards and seven touchdowns in the postseason, Fitzgerald does not have a reception for 40 or more yards. He broke off five a year ago. And he's averaging 10.8 yards per catch, down from 14.9.
Warner, meanwhile, has only two completions for more than 30 yards, and he threw five interceptions in a 34-21 loss to Carolina last week, a rare performance for a quarterback who's enjoyed a recent renaissance.
"I think the last couple of years I've played some of the best football of my career," Warner said. "I think there was definitely a period there where people thought, 'You're done. You're just going to be a backup the rest of your career."'
Which is what the Bears wanted him to be for them.
Early in 2005, when he and the Bears were talking about signing Warner as a backup to Rex Grossman, Warner took a pass. He believed he had a better opportunity in Arizona and signed a one-year deal with the Cardinals, which turned into a good move even though they drafted Matt Leinart in 2006.
Warner eventually re-emerged as a top-tier quarterback after bouncing in and out of the starting lineup, and led the Cardinals back to the Super Bowl last season.
"It's weird how it works out, but I know I would've loved to have played there in Chicago in front of those fans and for Lovie," said Warner, who was the St. Louis Rams' quarterback when Smith was their defensive coordinator. "It would've been great. But I'm not going to trade anything for my experience here in Arizona."