Aaron Rodgers, Jay Cutler meet at peak
Packers, Bears NFC title game QBs display swagger in different ways
ATLANTA -- He says it as a joke. And Aaron Rodgers says it all the time: in the huddle, on the sideline, pregame, in a loud or whispered voice, but always with a straight face:"Don't panic." The Green Bay Packers quarterback says it because it's a clichéd inspirational message -- especially coming from the leader of a team that barely made the playoffs, that will have to win three consecutive road games to make the Super Bowl, the final one against the host Chicago Bears on Sunday. But that's not what makes it funny. What makes it funny is that he says it knowing he doesn't have to say it. "We're already loose," receiver Greg Jennings says.
Late in the second quarter, receiver James Jones came to Rodgers and said, "I can get 'em deep."
Rodgers flipped Jones' alignment with Donald Driver's, positioning Jones alone to the right. Jones ran a stutter-and-go and made a twisting, falling catch in the end zone for a touchdown.Only a few quarterbacks -- Brady, Peyton Manning -- are allowed to change the play whenever they want. Rodgers has only three postseason games -- including two wins in this trip -- under his belt. But if you're playing at a level that Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy characterized twice after the Falcons game as "excellent," not to mention "on fire," you're permitted a few allowances. "When you're playing like him," Jennings says, "you can call whatever you want." Cutler, meanwhile, has the cockiness that attends the naturally gifted. Football always has been easy for the former Vanderbilt star and Denver Broncos starter. Cutler always has used his arm to bail him out of whatever prickly situation his attitude -- surly to some -- placed him in. But he complements his talent with hard work. He's a ferocious film studier, and although Bears offensive coordinator Mike Martz's scheme is quarterback-friendly, Cutler has used it to shed the notion that he's a flamethrower who cannot win big games. Cutler was smiling, too, during Chicago's 35-24 win Sunday over the Seattle Seahawks -- his postseason debut. Whether that translates into an image makeover remains to be seen. But with each win, his baggage seems to matter less, and fans are beginning to see him not as a grump but rather as the type of technician the Bears badly needed.
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