Ball and season still in Cutlers hands

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Ball and season still in Cutlers hands

It hasnt always been pretty but the Bears are 6-1 and playing a 3-5 team for the chance to win a sixth straight game. Bears teams that win six straight have always made the playoffs since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger (1977, 1985, 1986, 1990, 2001, 2005, 2006).

That is no assurance of true success, however. All but the 85 and 06 teams lost in the first round of the playoffs.

But for the Bears to join the first part of that list will require a meaningful performance upgrade from quarterback Jay Cutler.

Cutler Time

This has become a familiar refrain, but with Houston, San Francisco, Minnesota (twice) and Seattle the next five opponents after the Tennessee Titans all but Minnesota (11th) ranked top-five defensively Cutler needs a whole-game show like his fourth quarter against the overmatched Carolina Panthers.

The Chicago defense has been the story of the 2012 season but at some point Cutler is expected and needed to play like the franchise quarterback that at least GM Phil Emery has decided he is.

Cutlers dalliances accounted for three of the six sacks he took against Carolina. This is simply unacceptable from a quarterback into his seventh NFL season and who is working with his virtually hand-picked position coach in Jeremy Bates.

And he really isnt all that convincing looking deeper into this season and whether things will be any better with Mike Tice than they were with Ron Turner or Mike Martz.

Didnt say it was getting better, Cutler said. I never said it was. We could be playing this type of ball in December. I dont know. I cant tell the future.

How I saw it in August

The season has held to the form I expected before it began, which had the Bears winning the ones they have and losing in Green Bay. This Tennessee game, however, was not one I had in the ledger as a W for the team I projected for 11-5.

Heres how it looked after preseason:

9. At Tennessee Titans (2011 record 9-7) Sun., Nov. 4, noon

Analysis: Whether the Bears will be facing Matt Hasselbeck or Jake Locker is a question but Tennessees offensive line allowed just 24 sacks last year. This is a very dangerous team, adding pass rusher Kamerion Wimbley, aging but solid LG Steve Hutchinson and drafting Baylor WR Kendall Wright a pick after the Bears took Shea McClellin.

Result: L (6-2)

The quarterback issue has come down with Hasselbeck because of Lockers shoulder injury. Wimbley hurt the Bears last year as a Raiduh and Wright already has 40 catches, an average of five per game.

This isnt a trap game where the Bears dont take a bad team seriously and spend three quarters figuring out that theres a game and maybe they should join it already in progress. The Bears appeared to be looking past Carolina and with so much attention on the toughening second half of the schedule, overlooking Tennessee would not be beyond possibility.

The problem is that Titans with Hasselbeck are not the same team as with Locker. The defense is still a serious concern, having given up no fewer than 23 points in the first seven games before taking Indianapolis to overtime and a 19-13 loss.

And so

The Bears very well could go back home with a 7-1 record and narrow win against the Titans. I didnt think they would before this season started and I still dont.

Titans: 23; Bears: 20

[PHOTO] Joe Maddon, Miguel Montero patch things up over a drink

[PHOTO] Joe Maddon, Miguel Montero patch things up over a drink

Despite the Cubs ending their 108-year World Series drought, Miguel Montero made offseason headlines for all the wrong reasons when he complained about his role in the Cubs' 2017 championship campaign.

Montero criticized Maddon's communication skills, catching rotation and bullpen decision-making after the team's Grant Park celebration. Maddon brushed off the criticism, and last week at spring training Montero said he hadn't spoke with the Cubs' skipper.

That tension appears to be all but a thing of the past, as Montero posted this picture of him and his manager sharing a drink together sporting nothing but smiles.

It's safe to say Montero would describe his relationship with Maddon now as: #WeAreGood.

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks clash with Wild tonight on CSN

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks clash with Wild tonight on CSN

Watch as the Blackhawks take on the Minnesota Wild tonight on CSN and streaming live on CSNChicago.com. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live. Then stick around after the final buzzer to watch Blackhawks Postgame Live for highlights and analysis.

Click here to watch the game or download the NBC Sports App, your home for live streaming coverage of the Blackhawks.

Five Things to Watch:

1. Road warriors.

The Blackhawks have won six straight games away from the United Center, and are looking to make it a seventh in Minnesota tonight. They've scored the game's first goal in four of those wins, and in the other two, overcame 1-0 deficits to beat Dallas 5-3 and Edmonton 5-1, the latter of which they scored five unanswered goals.

2. Corey Crawford vs. Devan Dubnyk.

Crawford hasn't quite been the same since undergoing an emergency appendectomy on Dec. 3, but he turned in probably his best outing since then in the Blackhawks' last meeting against Minnesota on Feb. 8 when he stopped 35 of 38 shots in a 4-3 overtime win. He essentially stole two points, and prevented the Wild from picking up the extra one. Across from him tonight will be Dubnyk, who leads the league in wins (32), goals against average (1.97) and save percentage (.934).

3. Jonathan Toews on fire.

After a tough offensive drought earlier in the season that lasted longer than expected, the Blackhawks captain has six goals and 10 assists in his last 12 games, and upped his point total to 37, which now ranks fifth on the team. In the last meeting against Minnesota two weeks ago, Toews had a three-point night and scored the game winner in overtime. 

4. Mikael Granlund among league's most underrated players.

File Granlund under the category of players who don't get enough attention. He has 17 goals and 36 assists in 58 games this season, and his 53 points is tied with Jeff Carter and Artemi Panarin for 13th in the NHL's scoring race. The next highest point total on the Wild is Eric Staal with 45, an eight-point gap between him and Granlund. The 24-year-old forward registered his first career hat trick earlier this month, and also had a 12-game point streak just two weeks ago.

5. Ryan Hartman's closing in on 15 goals.

In Saturday's 3-1 loss to Edmonton, Hartman defended his teammate by fighting an Oilers defenseman that was practically twice his size. He called it a "no-brainer" to stick up for Tanner Kero and did well in the scrap, but it led to an Oilers power play and 10-minute misconduct which didn't do the Blackhawks any favors. He responded in a great way Sunday by scoring the game's first goal that helped his team win 5-1 in Buffalo. The next goal he scores will be No. 15, which would give the Blackhawks six 15-plus goal scorers on the year. They had only four a season ago.

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