Now, I've been among the biggest Jay Cutler sympathizers this blog has on its writing staff. I defended him after the NFC Championship game, in the past I have defended him against Rick Telander, Dan Pompei and Greg Couch, among others. In fact, I am already on record with how I feel about the Thursday night situation. However, this article isn't really just a defense of Cutler, it's more like a "stop being surprised by Cutler" article.
For this I am going to be discussing an article posted Friday on ESPN's "Grantland" Website from Bill Barnwell. This article was in this morning's Den but I still wanted to give it a little extra attention and throw in my two cents.
Barnwell starts by saying most of "us" (he throws around "us" and "we" to mean fans and football analysts) say if Cutler changes in one or two ways he be the quarterback we want him to be and finally become an elite, Super Bowl caliber QB. But then he asks:
Why does Jay Cutler have to get fixed? Why can't he just be a pretty good quarterback who delivers one or two terrible games a year? Isn't that good enough?
Now, a lot of Bears fans would say "Hell no that's not good enough!" and the media haters would say "Hell no that's not good enough, he needs to be our definition of a leader." But hear him out.
The problem is that we've somehow convinced ourselves that quarterbacks mill around at one level until they have a notably impressive game or season and establish a permanent new level of play, like they were characters in an RPG.
He goes on to explain there have been several points where we thought Cutler turned a corner, only to have another point turn us back on him. It's all just highs and lows.
Fans and analysts can be irrational at times about specific players. We look for trends and consistency and a "level of greatness." We try to define ineffable characteristics among quarterbacks (ESPN's 'Total QBR' comes to mind). It's funny to stop and think that the end result of one play makes us think differently about a player. He threads the needle between two defenders for a TD? He's a hero and a gunslinger, that pass gets picked off and he's a risk-taker who throws into double coverage thinking his arm can overcome the situation.
Barnwell takes this example further, looking at Favre vs. Cutler:
Like Cutler, Favre was prone to awful games in which he'd toss up a bunch of interceptions, get down on his teammates, and generally look like a disaster. Just like with Cutler, we'd project our images of how Favre looked and acted onto our opinions of how he played. Because Favre was emotional and fiery, we saw him as a team leader. Cutler's aloof stoicism and smugness have become the calling card for his critics, despite the fact that his teammates love him.
But Favre is perceived entirely differently:
We let Favre get away with those bad games because he won a Super Bowl relatively early in his career, at which point he was free to produce all the stinkers he wanted. You wouldn't be surprised to hear that Favre trails only Drew Bledsoe for most four-interception games since 1990. You know who's tied with Favre, though? Tom Brady, another player who won early in his career and gets insulated from the sort of critiques Cutler suffers from when he plays poorly
Barnwell also calls out Brady for getting a pass for yelling at his teammates, he then draws the comparison with another polarizing QB; Tony Romo:
Nothing has changed about Tony Romo....A few weeks from now, Tony Romo is going to throw an interception at the wrong time and his team is going to lose. At that same time, it's entirely possible that Jay Cutler will be in the middle of a hot streak for his Bears, and we'll be swapping the titles of "healed" and "sick" that are currently bestowed on Romo and Cutler, respectively.
So finally Barnwell brings it on home:
As fans, we need to let those labels go. Tony Romo is not turning into some drastically different player at 32, nor should he; he's a very good quarterback. Jay Cutler is not going to stop taking risks and holding on to the ball after 2,500 NFL passes, nor should he; he's also a very good NFL quarterback.
The entire article is definitely worth a read. What he is saying is that Cutler's perception will change only if he wins a Super Bowl, but at that point he will still be the same player he's always been, just with a ring. Fans and media try to change players, say what they need to do to become great, but these players are already very good, so what's the point?
Other QBs who are having perceptions dealt to them, for better or worse, deserved or not are guys like Joe Flacco and Matt Ryan. Ryan hasn't won a playoff game, but he's still a good QB, Flacco hasn't gotten to a Super Bowl but has won a bunch of playoff games. Do these guys need to radically change their game? Not to the extent most would have you believe Cutler or Romo does.
I believe Cutler has what it takes to win a Super Bowl. He'll win it as the player he is. We just need to accept him for who he is. Thankfully, with a full slate of other NFL news to talk about, perhaps this latest Cutler talk will take a back seat and we can all focus on the Rams game. I will be listening, however, to The Jay Cutler Show Tuesday to see what the man himself says about all this.