Favre: Concerns about Cutler overblown

Matt Trowbridge

Jay Cutler leads the NFL with 18 interceptions, but NFL passing leader Brett Favre said Chicago’s quarterback doesn’t have to change anything – except maybe his teammates.

“He’ll be fine,” Favre said on a teleconference Wednesday, “and that team will be much better off with him than without him.”

Cutler’s big arm and even bigger confidence have long sparked comparisons to Favre. The comparison seems even more apt now. Favre said Cutler’s rocky first year in Chicago was a lot like his situation with the Jets last year, when Favre led the NFL with 22 interceptions.

“It would be easy to point to how he hasn’t performed this year,” Favre said of Cutler. “I don’t look at it that way.

“My Achilles’ Heel throughout my career was thinking there was never a bad play. I never wanted to concede a play. Did that get me in trouble at times? Sure. But I wouldn’t be here today if I didn’t play the way I played. It worked for me.

“Sometimes the best play is to take a sack,” added Favre, whose 9-1 Vikings host the 4-6 Bears 3:15 p.m. on Sunday. “Believe me, I’ve known that my whole career, but that doesn’t mean I’ve done that. Jay, that’s the type of player he is.”

Favre no longer looks like that type of player himself. The gunslinger that averaged 20 interceptions the previous seven seasons now has only three and leads the NFL with a career-high 112.1 passer rating. But he insisted he’s the same high risk/high reward quarterback he has been for 16 years, a guy Cutler said “has been down the road a few times, and came back, went down it again and came back.”

This time, Favre came back to play alongside last year’s NFL rushing leader Adrian Peterson, throw to fast young receivers Percy Harvin, Sidney Rice and Bernard Berrian and stand behind a massive offensive line.

“I’ve played the same way throughout my career,” Favre said. “I’d love to tell you that something happened and the light went on, but there’s nothing else for me to point to but the guys around me and the coaching staff.”

Bears defensive end Adewale Ogunleye said Favre “is throwing the same passes he always has,” but Rice, Harvin, Berrian and tight end Visanthe Shiancoe “are doing a tremendous job of attacking the ball. They are getting there before the DBs do.”

As a result, Favre is getting as much production as ever, on pace to throw for almost 4,000 yards and 35 touchdowns, but has cut his interceptions to less than one-third of his career average.

“It’s making him better that he can play-fake and everybody is going to bite on it,” Bears defensive tackle Anthony Adams said.

“When you have a good running game,” linebacker Lance Briggs said, “you are not required to chuck balls all day long, which is good for him.”

Cutler does have to, which is bad for him. The Bears rank 28th in the NFL in rushing, averaging 89.3 yards per game.

And while Berrian, Chicago’s former top receiver, is now Favre’s No. 3 receiver behind second-round pick Rice and first-round pick Harvin, Cutler’s top three receivers are converted defensive back/kick returner Devin Hester and two players who did not catch a pass last season, 2008 third-round pick Earl Bennett and fifth-round rookie Johnny Knox.

That doesn’t mean Cutler has done his job.

“I haven’t played up to my expectations,” Cutler said. “I know that. It’s a process, though.”

Favre agreed.

“The pressure that Jay puts on himself to do it right away are no different than the fans and team expects of him, but there is time to get things in order, this year, next year. You can draft guys and build around him.”

In the meantime, Favre said the biggest mistake Cutler could make is to grow conservative.

“You have to be willing to keep shooting at it,” Favre said.

Matt Trowbridge can be reached at (815) 987-1383 ormtrowbridge@rrstar.com.