LAKE FOREST —
All Jay Cutler knows is he needs a break, and considering the beating he’s taking, who could blame him?
These are painful times for the quarterback and the Chicago Bears.
Sacks, turnovers and losses are mounting and the good will created by a 3-0 start got crushed by three ugly losses the past four games heading into this week’s bye.
The next game is against winless Buffalo in Toronto, and that one doesn’t quite seem like such a sure thing, the way the Bears (4-3) are unraveling.
“We’ve got to get away from the game a little bit, mentally,” Cutler said. “I think it’s going to be good for the guys.”
What’s not good is the mounting pile of losses and growing angst in Chicago. There was plenty of that after last season, when the Bears missed the playoffs for the third straight year and many fans were calling for coach Lovie Smith and general manager Jerry Angelo to be dismissed.
Instead, the Bears went shopping.
They signed Pro Bowl defensive end Julius Peppers and running back Chester Taylor while shaking up the coaching staff, particularly on offense.
Chicago hired Mike Martz as offensive coordinator, hoping he could get the best out of Cutler, and brought in Mike Tice to coach a struggling offensive line.
After a promising start, things aren’t looking good. And the Bears are following a familiar pattern.
Last year, they won three of their first four before dropping six of seven on the way to a 7-9 record.
In 2008, they wound up at 9-7 after taking five of their first eight.
The way things have gone lately, it’s hard to believe they’re actually in first place, yet they still are tied for the NFC North lead with Green Bay despite all their issues.
“You’re not pleased with any of the things that went wrong,” Smith said. “There’s nothing we can’t correct.”
A defense that ranks fifth overall is doing it’s part, but the offense is a mess.
Chicago boasts a league-worst 18 percent third-down conversion rate, 12 interceptions and 31 sacks. It ranks 30th in yardage (290.4 per game), 29th in rushing, 29th in passer rating and 26th in points a game.
The line has drawn most of the scrutiny this season, but the spotlight is shining on Cutler and Martz in the wake of last week’s 17-14 loss to Washington.
Cutler got sacked four more times, bringing his league-leading total to 27. He has 19 in his last three games, starting with a nine-sack, concussion-inducing first half against the New York Giants that sidelined him for the rest of that game and against Carolina the following week. And while it would help if he had better protection, Cutler isn’t doing himself any favors.
He kept going at DeAngelo Hall last week, and the Redskins cornerback tied an NFL record with four interceptions, including a one-handed grab that led to a 92-yard touchdown return.
Cutler made one thing clear: He had no regrets. He said he’d do it again.
Martz, meanwhile, continues to come under scrutiny for his perceived stubbornness, inflexibility, and aversion to the handoff. He did say this week that he plans to use Matt Forte and Taylor together more often, something the Bears have rarely done.
“I think that’s a neat opportunity for us,” Martz said. “We’ve explored that. Those are all things we’ll look at over the bye week.”
But why now? Why not sooner?
That the days of the Bears getting off the bus running, as Smith used to say, are over is no big surprise given Martz’s history. Even so, the fact that only two teams are averaging fewer carries than Chicago at 22.3 is a bit jarring.
So are the sack totals, even if quarterbacks are exposed in Martz’s system.
Martz’s teams ranked among the top six in sacks allowed in each of his previous seven seasons as a head coach and coordinator. Yet the Bears were hoping the payoff would be big after watching Cutler go down 35 times while throwing a league-leading 26 interceptions last year.
“What we haven’t done on offense is create a consistent identity,” Jerry Angelo told the team’s website. “We’ve done some very good things both running and passing the ball; our problem has been doing it consistently.”