- Associated Press - Thursday, November 11, 2010

LAKE FOREST, ILL. (AP) - Growing up watching Brett Favre, Jay Cutler never envisioned they would be rivals.

Well, look at them now.

Gunslingers young and old will meet again Sunday when the Chicago Bears host the Minnesota Vikings in a game that could go a long way toward determining each team’s fate in the NFC North.

“I didn’t imagine he’d still be playing when I’d be playing, but you never know,” said Cutler, the Bears‘ quarterback. “Growing up watching Brett and Elway and some of those guys _ he still looks good. He’s still doing some of the same stuff he used to.”

And Favre said he sees a little of himself in Cutler.

Both have rocket arms and both believe they can zip passes through any opening, no matter how tiny. It leads to spectacular completions, the kind that draw oohs and aahs from the crowd, and loud groans when the ball gets deflected or picked off.

Between Cutler and Favre, there will likely be plenty of both on Sunday.

No one threw more interceptions than Cutler (26) last year. Favre (330) is the all-time leader, so it’s no shocker that he’s setting the pace this season with 13.

Nor is it a surprise that the 41-year-old Favre in some ways sees the 27-year-old Cutler as a younger version of himself.

“I guess you’re probably getting to the kind of river boat gambler mentality,” Favre said. “I think when you have a big arm you feel like you can throw it through any coverage, any window and, at times, you do. I see that in him. … He’s trying to take the good with the bad, you know what you’re getting. I think he’s a heck of a competitor, he’s tough.”

Both have struggled at times this season but are coming off strong performances.

Favre threw for a career-high 446 yards while leading the Vikings from a late 14-point deficit to a 27-24 overtime victory over Arizona that perhaps saved the season for the Vikings (3-5). If they win their next two against Chicago and NFC North leader Green Bay, they’ll be right back in the division race, a big turnaround for a team that’s been embroiled in drama all year.

The Bears (5-3) could move into a first-place tie with Green Bay and build some momentum after escaping with a 22-19 win over Buffalo in Toronto last week behind a strong performance by Cutler.

Roughed up in recent weeks, he showed more poise and stayed on his feet, completing 17 of 30 passes for 188 yards and two touchdowns without an interception. He got sacked just once, a big improvement after going down 19 times in his previous three games, but the numbers overall still aren’t great.

After a strong start, Cutler ranks 16th with an 86.0 passer rating and leads the league with 28 sacks. Blame that on poor protection and his own questionable decisions, whether he was hanging onto the ball or trying to hit a receiver who simply wasn’t open.

“I think to be successful at this position you have to take risks,” Cutler said. “There’s going to be certain situations where you have to put the ball in tight spots, but they have to be calculated risks. You learn over time when to take those chances and when not to. But sometimes you get caught up in the game and you’re going to try to pump one in there.”

Favre, who’s 27th with a 75.7 rating, knows all about that. He knows all about continuity, too, which is sort of a foreign concept to Cutler. In his fifth season, he’s played for only two head coaches (Lovie Smith and Mike Shanahan) but is on his fourth offensive coordinator in Mike Martz.

Favre, by comparison, spent most of his time in Green Bay under Mike Holmgren.

“Mike was my coach and he continued to be my coach until I was able to set out on my own, so to speak,” Favre said. “If you look at Mike Holmgren and myself and you say ‘OK, which one really was the difference maker in his success early on?’ I would say Mike Holmgren. Because I didn’t know any different. I didn’t know a good play from a bad play in the West Coast offense. He had called those plays for years.”

Cutler, he added, hasn’t had that consistency.

“To me that’s such a huge part of anyone’s success, especially a young quarterback,” he said. “You look at guys who have been in systems where they’ve been able to do that, they’ve flourished; maybe not right away but over time you see them all the sudden take off.”

NOTE: C Olin Kreutz missed his second straight practice because of a hamstring problem, although coach Lovie Smith sounded confident he will play on Sunday. Kreutz has made 126 straight starts.

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