LAKE FOREST, ILL. (AP) - Jay Cutler just needed some time.
By winning two straight heading into Thursday night's game at Miami, the Chicago Bears have shown what can happen when Cutler has time to throw _ and his teammates have more time in coordinator Mike Martz's offense.
"Guys are protecting up front," Cutler said Tuesday. "They're giving me some time back there. Some lanes are opening up. If no one is open, I'm probably going to take off and try to make something happen, either through the ground or by moving the pocket and throwing it."
Cutler has been sacked only once in each of the last two games after the offensive line gave up 31 sacks in the first seven games. With Cutler standing upright, the Bears have converted 58 percent of their third downs in two straight games, going 7 of 12 on Nov. 7 against Buffalo and 11 of 19 on Sunday against Minnesota. The first seven games, they converted just 18 percent (15 of 84).
"It makes a difference having the same guy out there, knowing what each other is going to do," center Olin Kreutz said. "And we're just further along in this offense now. We've put a whole bunch of obvious mistakes on film and we've learned from them. And we'll keep learning from our mistakes."
It hasn't hurt having the same five offensive linemen _ left tackle Frank Omiyale, left guard Chris Williams, Kreutz, right guard Roberto Garza and rookie right tackle J'Marcus Webb _ together for a couple of games. This week will mark the first time all season that the Bears have gone more than two straight games with the same offensive line.
Garza missed two games and bye-week practices because of arthroscopic knee surgery, and when he returned, line coach Mike Tice put him next to Webb, at right guard. Garza played left guard to start the season, but had been a right guard from 2006-09.
"You can't really put into words how Roberto helps," Kreutz said. "With me playing next to him, I know exactly what he's going to do. I don't have to make a million calls for him. And then he helps out J'Marcus a lot."
Cutler's confidence appeared to wane at times earlier in the season, especially after returning from a concussion he sustained when sacked nine times in the first half Oct. 3 by the New York Giants.
"I'll be very confident if we keep protecting like this and giving me time to move around and make some plays," he said. "That's all the difference in the world."
While Cutler has appreciated his linemen blocking better, they're appreciating the habit he has had the last few games of buying time with his feet or even just running for a few yards. He had a 25-yard scramble against Minnesota and rushed for 39 yards against Buffalo.
"He's doing a great job of getting rid of the ball, moving in the pocket when we kind of break down a little bit, and he's creating those big plays," Garza said.
Cutler said it wouldn't have been possible to find receivers on the run if he hadn't been playing with the team a season and a half, and in Martz's offense for half a season.
"That's just got to come with experience with the same guys in game situations," he said. "We're starting to kind of build that and being together more and more after last year. And this year they're starting to get more of a feel for what I'm going to do and I'm getting a feel for what they're going to do."