Short-handed Jay Cutler renews Philip Rivers rivalry

SHARE Short-handed Jay Cutler renews Philip Rivers rivalry
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Bears quarterback Jay Cutler is renewing his rivalry with the Chargers’ Philip Rivers. (AP)

It would have been forgotten were it not on Monday Night Football.

Or on a holiday.

“It was Christmas Eve, and we were both battling for a playoff spot,” Bears quarterback Jay Cutler said Friday at Halas Hall. “I think (the Chargers) reeled off like five — four or five — in a row to get to that point. It was just one of those things that stuck in people’s minds.”

There’s a reason why: After Cutler, then with the Broncos, failed to convert on fourth down in the fourth quarter, Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers was captured, on camera, jawing at him from the sideline.

Chargers teammates behind Rivers waived goodbye to Cutler, mocking him en route to a 2007 victory.

Monday night, Cutler will face Rivers for the first time in four years. Both quarterbacks will be short-handed, with Cutler relying on rookie running back Jeremy Langford to replace Matt Forte.

The intensity should be the same, even though both men have aged; Rivers’ wife just gave birth to their eighth child and Cutler’s wife is pregnant with their third.

“Anytime you play in-conference games, there’s gonna be some stuff there,” Cutler said. “Over the years, I’ve gained a lot of respect for his game and the way that he plays. He’s been a staple in the league for a long time and has put up huge numbers year-in and year-out. He’s always fun to watch, always fun to play against.”

Rivers, as known for his verbal sparring on game day as Cutler is for his stares, said he doesn’t dislike Cutler. They always shake hands after the game; otherwise he doesn’t know him well.

“It’s funny,” Rivers said. “Because there’s really about a 5- to 10-second interaction that kinda sparked a so-called rivalry, us against one another. Other than that, there’s really been nothing there — other than that 5-10 seconds of a little bit of banter back and forth.

“Other than that, shoot, I’ve always thought he’s a heckuva player. We’ve had some good games when he was in Denver.”

After the argument, Cutler split two games against the Chargers in 2008 — he won the first on a four-yard pass to once-and-future teammate Eddie Royal with 24 seconds to play — before being traded to the Bears.

In 2011, he broke his right thumb trying to tackle the Chargers’ Antoine Cason, who intercepted him in the fourth quarter of a win.

Whether Monday’s game will be memorable, too, could hinge on Langford. How the Bears use the rookie — Forte played quarterback and receiver in different packages — will be one of the game’s most critical plot lines.

“That’s going to be the interesting part of the game,” offensive coordinator Adam Gase said. “They’re going to test him out, and they’re going to figure out what we’re going to do protection-wise. They’re going to see what kind of runs we’re going to end up doing with him.”

Cutler has been playing with a makeshift supporting cast all season. He has Alshon Jeffery back, but will likely play Monday without Forte, receiver Eddie Royal (knee) and center Hroniss Grasu (neck).

“It’s always a challenge,” Cutler said. “You want to try to have as many consistent guys in the offense year-in and year-out and game-in and game-in just to get some confidence. Guys learn through experience for the most part.

“To have to shift guys in and out and kind of start over with some of these guys — it’s challenging.”

Langford said he feels comfortable after preparing all season to ensure “I can go in there and not lose any slack or call out different plays because I’m in.”

Cutler thinks he can.

“He makes it comfortable on the quarterback,” he said. “If you tell him something, he already knows it. He already knows what he is supposed to do. He’s developing into that role pretty quickly.”

Follow me on Twitter @patrickfinley

Email: pfinley@suntimes.com

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