Stafford, Cutler face off in divisional battle Sunday
While Jay Cutler is receiving some praise for leading the banged-up Chicago Bears to back-to-back wins, Matthew Stafford is hoping to dig out of a horrendous start.
Two quarterbacks playing much differently meet Sunday when the visiting Bears look to avoid their longest losing streak against the winless Detroit Lions in 42 years.
Cutler has had a patch-work receiving corps with first-round pick Kevin White, Pro Bowler Alshon Jeffery and veteran Eddie Royal nursing injuries. Making matters worse, Will Montgomery and Jermon Bushrod also have gone down on the offensive line.
Cutler, however, has made the most of what's left by keeping plays alive despite battling a hamstring injury that cost him one-plus games. Since sitting out a 26-0 loss at Seattle on Sept. 27, he's thrown for 533 yards with four touchdowns and one pick.
The 10th-year pro lost an early fumble in the end zone last Sunday before rebounding with a pair of late scoring strikes in an 18-17 win at Kansas City. He dropped the snap before calmly hitting Matt Forte in stride for the go-ahead score with 18 seconds left.
Coach John Fox said Cutler is still growing under new offensive coordinator Adam Gase.
"We're still six months into it from just a learning aspect, not even a practicing aspect, but I like what I've seen and I expect him to get better moving forward," Fox told the team's official website.
Since throwing for 12 touchdowns and one interception in his first nine career starts against the Lions (0-5), Cutler has five TDs and six picks while getting sacked seven times in three straight losses. He did not play in the most recent meeting - a 20-14 home loss Dec. 21 - after being benched by former coach Marc Trestman.
Matthew Stafford certainly knows the feeling after being yanked following his third interception in last Sunday's 42-17 home loss to Arizona. Coach Jim Caldwell stuck to his word after reportedly telling the 2014 Pro Bowler one more pick would lead to the bench.
Stafford has struggled throughout much of the season, ranking 33rd in the NFL with a 74.8 passer rating while throwing a league-high eight interceptions. He's thrown just two touchdown passes to go with five picks over his last three games.
One result has been star receiver Calvin Johnson's 32 catches for just 322 yards.
With backup Dan Orlovsky not a likely solution, Caldwell has made it clear Stafford will be under center as the Lions try to end their worst start since going 0-16 in 2008.
Stafford has played well at home versus Chicago (2-3), completing 67.6 percent of his attempts while throwing for eight touchdowns and three interceptions in four meetings.
"There's no quarterback controversy or anything of that nature," said Caldwell, who guided an 11-5 Lions team to the playoffs last year. "But I know one thing, we've got to get better."
Detroit, which hasn't won five straight versus Chicago since 1971-73, could face some hostility if it doesn't get off to a strong start. Frustrated fans booed the Lions last weekend, leading receiver Golden Tate to voice displeasure before easing off this week.
Caldwell then admitted Monday that his squad didn't give maximum effort.
"I understand where our fan base is coming from as far as their patience with this organization and a lot of people put it in perspective," Tate told the team's official website. "And I'll just keep it at that."
Joique Bell, who has 22 yards on 20 carries this season, expects to play after missing two games with an ankle injury. Rookie Ameer Abdullah was benched Sunday after fumbling twice for the Lions, who rank last in the NFL with 49.0 rushing yards per game.
Since allowing 35.0 points and 331.0 yards per game during an 0-3 start, the Bears have given up an average of 18.5 points and 265.0 yards. They have nine sacks in the previous three contests - led by Pernell McPhee's three - after previously recording none.
Linebacker Shea McClellin, though, could be out after injuring his knee last week.
Detroit is 22nd in total defense (375.4 yards per game) and 27th against the rush (126.6) after allowing a season-high point total and 187 rushing yards against Arizona. Now linebacker DeAndre Levy is out after aggravating a hip injury in his season debut.
That could be a bad sign as the Lions face Forte, who has an NFL-best 438 rushing yards. However, they've limited him to 94 and 2.3 per carry in the last three meetings.
Bears tight end Martellus Bennett, who has a team-high 28 receptions - 10 more than anyone else - is questionable with a quad injury that happened in practice Thursday. Jeffery and Royal are also listed as questionable.