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Cutler practices while Bears try to solve protection issues

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler was hitting receivers in stride, and for once, no defenders were near him. Of course, it was only a practice drill.

Cutler was back at it on a limited basis Wednesday, three days after a brutal 17-3 loss to the New York Giants in which he was sacked nine times in the first half and left with a concussion.

For that, Bears offensive coordinator Mike Martz took the blame.

"I just tried to do way too much in a short week with these guys," he said. "Whatever went wrong in that game was my responsibility."

Cutler's status for this weekend's game at Carolina was unclear. NFL guidelines say Cutler should receive clearance from an "independent neurological consultant" before playing again.

Martz said Cutler had "a meeting" after practice, presumably with a doctor, although he didn't specify. Bears coach Lovie Smith said Cutler would meet with an independent doctor, but he wouldn't say when.

Martz said Todd Collins, who left Sunday's game with a stinger, would start against the Panthers if Cutler isn't available.

Cutler didn't address the media as he usually does before practices Wednesday. That was pushed back at least until Thursday, but seeing Cutler in uniform and hitting receivers had to be encouraging for a Chicago team that saw much of the goodwill created by a 3-0 start squashed by an avalanche of sacks.

Besides leaving Cutler woozy, that barrage also placed Martz under the microscope and renewed the debate whether the personnel fits his system.

Martz's system is heavy at times on seven-step drops, an approach that welcomes pressure and can result in a beating for quarterbacks even on a team with a decent offensive line. Considering Chicago's blockers have struggled in recent years, that was one reason Martz's hiring raised some eyebrows during the offseason.

Martz's teams ranked among the top six in sacks allowed in each of his previous seven seasons as a head coach and coordinator. Yet the Bears hoped the rewards would outweigh the risks after watching Cutler be sacked 35 times while throwing a league-leading 26 interceptions last season.

Things were mostly clicking through the first three games, although there were issues in protection and the run game. Now the Bears lead the league with 18 sacks after that performance against the Giants.

Does the system need to be adjusted?

"You're talking to the wrong guy," said Martz, who added the seven-step drops are a small part of the offense. "I think we all believe in the system. Like I said, it's not what we're doing, it's just how well we're doing it. And it's new to everybody. And we've got guys who are learning how to just play, on top of it, in a highly competitive situation. We've just got to grind through it. If we're doing something we don't believe in or are suspicious about, certainly we wouldn't do it."

Martz said he's not worried about confidence after a game like that, adding, "You start worrying about confidence, you have the wrong guys. And we don't have the wrong guys. We do not have that. I promise you we don't. It's a coaching issue, period."

The Giants didn't blitz that much Sunday. They often had a clear path to the quarterback, and as the first half wore on, the Bears tried to protect Cutler with seven or eight blockers.

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Not that it made much of a difference.

"It was mental, man," center Olin Kreutz said. "There was a little bit of everything really, but most of them were those guys just beating us. That's not acceptable really. We've got to go back to work, and hopefully, we can rectify it this week in Carolina."

Cutler didn't help himself, either, by hanging onto the ball and at times not seeing open receivers, although he might have been dazed even if Smith said the Bears didn't notice any symptoms until after the ninth sack.

That came on the second-to-last play of the half, when Cutler's head banged the turf while being taken down by Aaron Ross. Cutler had absorbed more than his share of hits by then.

There was a big one early in the second quarter, when Osi Umenyiora ran through tight end Greg Olsen and blasted Cutler from behind, the ball popping out and into the arms of Kreutz. Cutler got up and took a few steps toward the wrong sideline.

"They beat us time after time, and we've got to get in front of guys and get them blocked," Kreutz said.

Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press

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