It's impossible for Jay Cutler to fully prepare for what has become the most crucial part of his job. How do you prepare to take a hit? How do you practice running for your life?
Sometimes the most important thing a quarterback can do is make something happen when everything has gone wrong, but there's no way to rehearse spontaneity.
''You never practice plays with bad protection,'' former Saints quarterback Archie Manning said. ''The passing part of practice is usually seven-on-seven. Even when you're doing teamwork, they don't hit the quarterback, so you don't get in the same frame of mind as when you're in a game. It's really a game-type situation, and it can be difficult.''
Because Cutler is on pace to be sacked more than any quarterback in Bears history, we reached out to two quarterbacks who absorbed so much punishment that pain management became part of their legacy. Jim Plunkett and Archie Manning rank among the greatest college quarterbacks in history. Unfortunately for them, they also rank among the most sacked quarterbacks in NFL history.
Plunkett was sacked 380 times in a 15-year career that ended in 1986, Manning a whopping 396 in a 13-year career that ended in 1984.
''You're constantly talking to yourself, especially when things go bad for a number of games -- or years in my case,'' Plunkett said. ''When you don't have confidence in the pocket, you either throw the ball too soon or bail and try to run out of trouble. When you do that, bad things happen. Even when the protection is good, you can't count on it consistently, and that gets you in trouble.
''It changes your thinking going into a game. You have to tell yourself to stay in the pocket. The game plan is all well and good, but if you get shut down three or four times, then all of a sudden you're looking to make big plays downfield whether they are there or not, which gets you into even more trouble.''
Nobody understands how difficult it is to complete passes in the face of slobbering defenders better than Plunkett and Manning. Interestingly enough, however, neither was sacked as much in one season as Cutler is likely to be this season.
The Bears have allowed 31 sacks, putting them on pace for 71 sacks allowed in 16 games, which would eclipse the record of 66 set in 2004. The 1985 Bears registered 64 sacks, which means the 2010 squad is on pace to allow more sacks than arguably the most dominant defense in history recorded in one season.
Cutler has been sacked 27 times, putting him on pace to be sacked 62 times, which is more than Plunkett (39) or Manning (59) ever went down in one 14- or 16-game season.
''They add up over time,'' Plunkett said. ''You get beat up, and they hurt more when you're losing than when you're winning. You shake it off on a winning team, but when you lose it demoralizes you and gets you down and shakes your confidence. At least it did me. Some players shake it off better. Kenny Stabler would throw five interceptions, and it would be like it never happened. That wasn't me.
''After I finally got released by San Francisco, I thought maybe the press and fans were right. Maybe I'm washed up and should look for another profession. I was beat down pretty good. When I was released from San Francisco, I was relieved. I was happy to get out from under that. I questioned my ability. One thing that kept me going was family and friends.''
The punishment they absorbed altered their careers. Plunkett resurrected his with the Raiders and won two Super Bowls, but not until after John Madden sat him down and told him to relax and quit trying to be the savior.
Manning was never surrounded with a cast that fully complemented his skills. He spent 10 years with the Saints running for his life before ending his career with the Vikings.
''Protection breakdowns will really test your fundamentals,'' Manning said. ''You have to really study yourself after games and see what's going on with your fundamentals. Sometimes quarterbacks are like golfers. You can pick up a bad habit in your sleep. You wake up and there's a goofy thing you shouldn't be doing with your shoulders or feet. A lack of pass protection can really make you do that.
''My advice is to watch yourself real close. I got in some bad habits mechanically. Early in the week, you have to study yourself and make a plan to do what you were taught to do as a quarterback. You've got to fight off the bad things that can happen to you. You have to fight off the mental mistakes and bad habits.''
The punishment took a toll on their careers and their bodies. Cutler isn't thinking about that now, just like Plunkett and Manning ignored it when they were playing. He'll find out soon enough.
''There are a lot of lingering effects,'' Plunkett said. ''Your health is not good. I've had 15 surgeries and close to many more, and I'll probably have some more before I leave this earth. Until I had my knees replaced, I was really, really suffering. My back is crooked, and I can't stand straight anymore. My shoulder doesn't work. That's some of the things you're left with after all those years.''
Manning said he's holding up better than most.
''I really like Jay,'' he said. ''I have empathy for him. I've been there.''