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CBSSports.com Senior Writer

Power Rankings: Critics have to lay off Cutler now

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If you bashed Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler last season, or when he was in Denver, raise your hand.

Anybody left with hands down?

Cutler took more heat than any player in the NFL last season, his first with the Bears. The Denver Broncos jettisoned him to Chicago in a trade after new coach Josh McDaniels decided he was better off without the volatile QB. When the Bears landed Cutler, he became the Windy City's top whipping boy, moreso than troubled politician Rob Blagojevich.

Clark Judge, my colleague here at CBSSports.com, has been a constant Cutler basher. He insists he'll never be a winner.

I disagree. Now we're seeing that he can win games. The Bears are 2-0 and Cutler has five touchdown passes and one interception. Chicago has vaulted to the No. 8 spot in our CBSSports.com Power Rankings, thanks mainly to his right arm.

Cutler is a daring, down-the-field thrower who is averaging 10.1 yards per pass attempt. That screams big play. Cutler didn't help his cause last season, throwing 26 interceptions as the Bears missed out on the playoffs. But a closer inspection of his stats shows he also threw 27 touchdown passes, a number bettered by only seven other quarterbacks.

Their names: Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, Brett Favre, Matt Schaub, Aaron Rodgers, Philip Rivers and Tom Brady.

Cutler played behind a woeful line last season and with receivers who were learning on the fly, which contributed to the interceptions. That isn't to say Cutler doesn't have his faults. He is arrogant, and that shows up on the field. His rocket arm sometimes gets him in trouble, forcing the ball when throwing it away or taking a sack are better options.

I'd say of the 26 picks, six were caused by that arrogance. But Bears receiver Johnny Knox told me this summer the receivers were responsible for their fair share as well.

"No doubt we were," Knox said this summer. "I remember one play against Green Bay where I was supposed to keep running across the field and I stopped. Al Harris picked of the pass and everyone blamed Jay. It was my fault. There were more of those for our receivers."

Now that Knox is a year older and Devin Hester knows how to play the position better, Cutler looks like a different guy. In his past four starts, Cutler has 13 touchdown passes to two interceptions and his passer rating has been over 100 in every one of those games.

It helps this season that he has Mike Martz running the offense. Martz, for all his faults, and there are plenty, is one of the best offensive minds in football. I love watching his offense.

Cutler and Martz have bonded from the start. And it shows.

It might be good enough to get Cutler to the Pro Bowl. Even better, it might get those doubters off his back.

RANK TEAM MOVE (LW)

Pete Prisco has covered the NFL for three decades, including working as a beat reporter in Jacksonville for the Jaguars. He hosted his own radio show for seven years, and is the self-anointed star of CBS Sports' show, Eye on Football. When he's not watching game tape, you can find Pete on Twitter or dreaming of an Arizona State national title in football.
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