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Why I'll miss injured Jay Cutler - the best quarterback in Bears history

With Jay Cutler out this week with a hamstring injury, it's time to reflect on one of the great truths of Chicago Bears history: Jay Cutler, INTs and all, is the best quarterback in Bears history, a silver lining in what is shaping up to be a dreary season. Don't fight it, Bears fans. Accept the truth.

Jay Cutler is the best QB in Bears history. We're sorry, but it's true.
Jay Cutler is the best QB in Bears history. We're sorry, but it's true.
Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

"Are we still supposed to talk about the Bears," my colleague Brian asked me yesterday, "or do we just pretend it's over?"

"I think if we're going to continue watching, we should continue talking about them," I told him. "And since we're going to continue watching, we have to continue talking."

"It will be like therapy," he said.

"We'll need it," I said.

Since 1990, only 11 percent of 0-2 teams have made the playoffs. The Bears are 0-2. Our opponent Sunday, the two-time defending NFC champion Seattle Seahawks, are also 0-2. They know the hurdle they're facing. At 0-3, your odds of making the playoffs drop under 2 percent. Sunday's game is in Seattle, the first home game for the Hawks.

You do the math.

This is no big surprise. Coming off the biggest single-season disaster in Bears history (and believe me, I've evaluated every season in Bears history, including the 1-13 nightmare of 1969 and the back-to-back 4-and-12s in '97/'98), all Bears fans knew the 2015 season would be a wait-and-see-and-for-God-sakes-remember-to-breathe kind of year.

To me, there were six upsides:

1. Matt Forte

2. New coaching staff

3. Alshon Jeffery

4. Kevin White

5. The first Bears 3-4 defense of my life (I turn 34 in two months)

6. Jay Cutler, the best quarterback in Bears history

Of course, Alshon is hobbled. And White is out. And the new coaching staff... we'll see.

What I do know is that for at least one week, Bears fans are bereft of the weekly joy of watching Cutler perform. I am aware of the weekly agony, too. Prior to last week's game, I tweeted: "My Bears dilemma: Can I overcome the weekly disaster Jay Cutler causes and simply enjoy the best QB in Bears history?"

Sure enough, Jay started eight-for-eight, ran three times for 24 yards, made several plays that no other Bears quarterback I've ever watched could make...

...and then proceeded to throw behind Marty Bennett, get picked off, fail to make a tackle, get injured while failing to make said tackle and lay hobbled on the turf while the clutcher of his pass galloped into the endzone.

The Bears never recovered from that sequence. Nor did Jay.

"Only Cutler," I mumbled while watching the game.

Yet here's the thing -- I've said "Only Cutler" a BUNCH during his six-plus seasons in Chicago, and often for positive reasons. His three TDs to Brandon Marshall against Tennessee in 2012. His 58-yard score in the snow to Greg Olsen to open the 2010 playoffs. His game-winning fade route to Bennett against Minnesota early in 2013.

There are many others.

With the exception of Walter Payton lining up in the single-wing, Cutler is hands down the greatest ATHLETE the Bears have ever had under center.

No, that's not enough to make him the best QB in Bears history -- from what the elders tell me, Bobby Douglass was a helluva runner. But he was all legs and no arm, never reaching 1,300 passing yards or 10 touchdowns in a season.

You want stats? If Marc Trestman hadn't benched Cutler last year, he likely would have amassed the 27 yards he needed to surpass Erik Kramer for the Bears single-season passing record, and probably would have bagged at least one TD, which would have tied him with Kramer on that mark too.

He is the franchise leader in attempts, completions, yards, and now needs seven touchdowns to pass Luckman in that category too.

I know what you're thinking -- "But Jack, Jay throws too many picks!"

I certainly agree with you.

And yet among Bears QBs with at least 10 career starts, Jay is first in completion percentage (61.4) and quarterback rating (84.2). His worst season of interceptions (26 in 2009, his first year on the team) is only second in Bears history (after Luckman's 31), and he has no other single-season INT marks in the franchise's top 10.

During a debate two years ago about the hypothetical Bears Quarterback Mt. Rushmore, my friend and colleague Jimmy Greenfield astutely pointed out that there is no such thing -- only a "small hill with stick figures on it," he tweeted.

It's poor competition, I know.

The only argument against Jay in the top slot is Sid Luckman, unquestionably the most SUCCESSFUL quarterback in Bears history. Cutler v. Luckman depends on how you view debates about historic players versus modern ones -- whether you measure athletes based on their actual physicality or if you are willing to upgrade a player's game and body to the modern era.

My problem with Luckman is that he played in an era when the T-formation was the game's key offensive wrinkle. Most successful Bears QB ever? Yes. Only Hall of Fame Bears QB? Yes. Physically better than Cutler? No. More fun to watch than Cutler? From the clips I've seen, no.

Who would I rather start Super Bowl L?


So fine, put Ol' Sid ahead of Big Jay if you want to. I won't spend much time complaining. But after that...?

This is no knock on Jim McMahon, nor on Kramer or Harbaugh, on Rex or Orton, on Avellini or Tomczak, on Billy Wade or Ed Brown or Rudy Bukich, on my main man Jim Miller, on any number of signal callers who donned the Orange & Navy.

But that's the point, and that's why I'll miss Jay this week versus Seattle and any other week he's out. When it's September and you're staring down a 4-12 tunnel, you seek silver linings. The chance to watch Jay Cutler, the best Bears quarterback ever, is silver as linings come.

Remember that horrific list of "All Bears Quarterbacks Since Brett Favre Made His First Start in Green Bay" that FOX used to show every damn time we played the Pack?

To me, those were more than names. I lived that. Odds are you lived some of it too.

I know the experience of waking up on a Sunday morning, putting on my Bears jersey and settling in for a day of cheering Henry Burris. I lived through the 1-7 stretch in 1998 where Steve Stenstrom's seven starts were interrupted only by one let's-see-what-he-can-do start for Moses Moreno.

How about 2004, Lovie Smith's first year, when the three-headed-backup monster of Jonathan Quinn (53.7 QB rating), Craig Krenzel (52.5) and Chad Hutchinson (73.6) spelled an injured Rex Grossman (67.9)? Or two years of Cade McNown, who was actually, when you break it down, not nearly as bad as we remember, which in itself makes it sound even worse?

Or Todd Collins bricking each of his four passes in the NFC championship game? Or Caleb Hanie losing each of his four starts in 2011? Or a 38-year-old Dave Krieg being "decent" in 1996 because he compiled a 6-6 record?

Jay Cutler is no Aaron Rodgers.

We know that.

Shoot, after watching Tony Romo cheer teammates on the sideline with an injured clavicle, it's clear Jay's not even Tony Romo. Obviously he's not Tom Brady. He's not Drew Brees. He's not Andrew Luck. He would have been sent to the nearest orphanage if somehow he'd been born a Manning.

He does not belong on that list. But he doesn't belong on that Moreno-Burris-Quinn-Collins-Horrible-Bears-QB-X list either.

When you've lived that list, you learn to appreciate what you have.

We have Jay. He's far from perfect but he's ours. Jimmy Clausen's ours too. You'll see the difference Sunday.