Cutler, Marshall spoil Luck’s debut

Bears get highest point total in nearly three seasons
Cutler, Marshall spoil Luck’s debut

The Indianapolis Colts had the new quarterback. The Chicago Bears had the new-look offense. Score one for strategy over personnel.

In time, the Colts’ Andrew Luck is likely to be a star, probably sooner rather than later; his first-game stats were eerily reminiscent to Peyton Manning’s first NFL start. But for now, the addition of wide receiver Brandon Marshall has made Jay Cutler and the Bears offense much more effective than before.

With Cutler throwing for 207 of his game-high 333 yards in the second quarter, the Bears came alive following a sluggish start and beat the Colts, 41-21, in the season opener. It was Chicago’s highest point total in nearly three years.

“If they keep doing that, if our offense keeps doing what they’re doing, we’re going to be pretty good,” said Brian Urlacher, the Bears’ middle linebacker and leader of a defense that long has had to carry the franchise. “It was awesome … fun to watch.”

Chicago thought its offense would improve this year because it signed wide receiver Brandon Marshall, who played with Cutler for Denver during the first three years of their careers, and imported quarterbacks coach Jeremy Bates, who was part of that coaching staff.

Score one for familiarity.

Cutler completed just 1 of his first 10 pass attempts, with one going for an interception/touchdown by Indy linebacker Jerrell Freeman. But from late in the first quarter onward, he completed 20 of 25 for 320 yards. Marshall, who was a teammate of Cutler’s in Denver for three years, caught nine passes for 119 yards and a touchdown in his Chicago debut. Fifteen of Cutler’s total 35 pass attempts were directed toward Marshall.

“Obviously, the chemistry he had with (Marshall) showed today,” said Chuck Pagano, the Colts’ first-year coach.

Luck completed 23 of 45 passes for 309 yards. He threw three interceptions and one touchdown pass, in the fourth quarter after the game was decided. He also lost one fumble. In Manning’s NFL debut with the Colts in 1999, a 24-15 loss to Miami, he completed 21 of 37 passes for 302 yards, throwing three interceptions and one touchdown pass, in the fourth quarter after the game was decided. Luck’s first-game passer rating was 52.9; Manning’s was 58.6.

Although the turnovers were “killers,” Luck said, his overall first-game performance against a solid defense was encouraging. Two of the three interceptions were outstanding defensive plays by cornerback Tim Jennings, a former Colts’ player; the other was more of a mental error combined with a bad throw by Luck, who thought he spotted a Bears’ player off-side and thought he had a free play.

“A learning experience,” Luck said, adding, “When you’re responsible for four turnovers, it’s hard to win. … We’ve got to get better in all facets of our offense.”

The game began to turn near the end of the first quarter when, tied 7-7, Colts running back Donald Brown dropped a perfect pass in the open field on 3rd-and-1, and Cutler then drove the Bears 95 yards for the go-ahead touchdown, a three-yard pass to Marshall.

The Bears drove 46 yards for a Robbie Gould field goal the next time they had the ball and 72 yards for another touchdown on their following possession and 55 yards for a touchdown on their first possession of the second half, making the score 31-14.

“Believe me, with quarterback play like that, we’re going to win a lot of football games,” said Lovie Smith, the Bears’ coach.