Jay Cutler needed just one more victory to change his image from glum to glamorous.
Just think: Had the Bears beaten the Packers in the NFC Championship Game last season, it might now be Cutler acting his way through cheesy insurance commercials, not Aaron Rodgers.
Instead, the image of the Chicago quarterback is one of him on the sidelines at cold Soldier Field, wrapped in a cape during the second half as the Packers earned the victory and Twitter blew up with Cutler criticism. Even NFL players tweeted to excoriate Cutler, whose injury was neither readily apparent nor announced, and who also didn't bother to don a headset or give sideline advice to his replacements, Todd Collins and Caleb Hanie.
Entering Sunday's game against the Vikings, Cutler seems to care little about that image.
"I don't get involved in that," he said Wednesday.
The Bears revealed, the day following the title-game loss to the Packers, that Cutler had a torn MCL in his left knee but would not need surgery. The Packers went on to win the Super Bowl, and the court of public opinion had issued its verdict. Cutler -- despite leading the Bears to the NFC North title -- supposedly hadn't gutted it out. It was another smirch on the reputation of a player who had asked to be traded out of Denver, where he once was hailed as the team's quarterback of the future.
But Cutler's immediate problem isn't his reputation, it's his health. The Bears offensive line has given up 18 sacks through five games -- last year, Chicago led the NFL by allowing 56 -- and teammates will vouch for Cutler's toughness in the face of such pressure. That pressure, in a Monday night loss in Detroit, caused the Bears to commit nine false-start penalties, eight by the offensive line.
"We were a little anxious up front," Cutler said. "Guys just have to settle down. It's hard to win games if you do things like that."
Cutler had what coach Lovie Smith called a "great" game against the Lions, but the Detroit pressure kept the quarterback under duress. Bears offensive coordinator Mike Martz said the team is working on adding shorter drops and quicker throws into the mix, what with NFL sacks leader Jared Allen in town for the game. The Bears offensive line is in transition, with right tackle Frank Omiyale benched and replaced by Lance Louis. The first-round draft pick, tackle Gabe Carimi, is out because of an injury, but right guard Chris Spencer should play despite having a broken right hand.
So Cutler could be on the run again.
"I expect more of the same," Cutler said. "Detroit blitzed a little early on, then they just relied on the front four the rest of the game ... and we struggled with them. So the defensive fronts that the Vikings have and their tendency to kind of play zone coverage and let the front four work, I would expect them to have the same kind of game plan [Detroit used]."
Additionally, Cutler has yet to establish a favorite among his less-than-sterling receiving corps. Dane Sanzenbacher has the most catches (16) among Bears wide receivers, but he's a rookie free agent out of Ohio State. Chicago's leading receiver is tailback Matt Forte, seventh in the NFL with 30 catches.
The Bears' 2-3 start leaves them only a game ahead of the Vikings as both have quickly fallen behind the unbeaten Lions and Packers in the NFC North.
"For us to be in position where we need to be, we need to start playing some better football," Cutler said. "It's the NFL. Every game is different, every season is different, you never know what you are going to get. To go into the season saying you're going to win X amount of games is ludicrous, so we just got to keep battling and try to turn it around."