- Melissa Isaacson, ESPN Staff Writer
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"I said, 'We get to see you twice a year now,'" Cutler related of his first communiqué after being traded to the Bears.
And Cutler's message the week of the season opener between the Bears and Packers?
"Just 'Good luck, see you this weekend,'" Rodgers said.
Clearly, any drama was going to have to be generated on the field. But NFC North fans had every reason to think both teams finally had the quarterbacks to create plenty of it, and the debate began in earnest.
Who would lead his team further, Cutler or Rodgers?
In Cutler's first-ever trip to Green Bay, he tossed four interceptions in a 21-15 Bears' loss and Rodgers threw a 50-yard winning touchdown to Greg Jennings with 1:11 remaining.
Using the prime indicators to measure quarterbacks -- won-loss record, red zone efficiency and third-down efficiency -- the contrast is striking.
Rodgers and the Packers, 8-4; Cutler and the Bears, 5-7.
Rodgers has an 88.7 scoring percentage in the red zone (52 percent touchdown percentage) with no interceptions. Rodgers didn't have any red zone picks all of last season.
Cutler has a 73.7 scoring percentage in the red zone (42 percent touchdown percentage) with five interceptions.
Rodgers' quarterback rating on third downs is 132.0, which leads the league, and Cutler's is 71.9, 21st in the NFL.
Rodgers has guided the Packers to 400-plus net yard games seven times, behind only New England and New Orleans.
He ranks among the top 10 in every major passing category and is No. 1 among all quarterbacks with 277 rushing yards on 45 carries.
And he's doing it seemingly unfazed as he has endured a league-leading 45 sacks (the Bears have allowed 26).
"I think every time a quarterback gets hit, whether it's a sack or not, it has to affect them a little bit," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "Most quarterbacks go in realizing that if they can get the ball off, there's a good chance they're going to take a lick. It's just about getting the football off, and most guys would say 'If I'm getting the ball off, whatever happens after that, I can live with.' All quarterbacks take a lot of hits."
Rodgers has taken a lot fewer lately, sacked just four times in the past three games behind a healthier offensive line.
"Aaron has gone through as different a situation as I've ever been around going into his first year as a starter, which everyone would agree he handled very well," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "[But] the second year is always a big hurdle to get over because now defenses have an opportunity to study [but] he doesn't swing too high or too low. His good games are closer to his not-so-good games, which equals consistency."
With much-deserved attention focused on the Packers' league-leading defense, Green Bay's sixth-ranked offense has been solid behind Rodgers.
"He's mobile, he's athletic and he makes good decisions," Bears safety Kevin Payne said. "That's pretty much the key."
And although Rodgers was lauded for being unflappable, Cutler, with a 22nd-ranked 75.3 quarterback ranking, was chippy when asked Wednesday about his penchant for jawing at officials.
"You view it as a problem?" Cutler shot back at the question. "You don't pay the fines, so I think it'll be OK."
His mood may well worsen after facing the Packers' defense and cornerback Charles Woodson, who is at the top of his game at age 33 with a team-leading seven interceptions along with five sacks.
Against the Bears in the opener, Woodson shadowed and shut down Greg Olsen [one catch for 8 yards], and there is no reason to think he won't do the same again Sunday.
"His athletic ability alone doesn't make him as great as he is," Cutler conceded of Woodson. "It's his mind and his ability to mess with the quarterbacks a little bit."
True, but the 2009 season has done that to some quarterbacks already.
Melissa Isaacson is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.
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