Jay Cutler has always been at his best when thrown into the fire. The plays he makes that coaches and fans gush over, are all organic but somehow routine improvisations. If you pressure Cutler, he breaks the pocket and unleashes a bomb on the run. Maybe, he even lets off a shovel pass and lets his playmakers work after the catch. Sometimes, he’ll use his arm and fire a rifle flat-footed to convert a crucial third down.
All of his criticisms lie with the simple and basic plays. He tries to force the ball into tight spaces, trusting his arm too much. Too often, he won't take the easy read or check down. Cutler is a flawed, mostly average, but effective quarterback.
That, of course, is all on the field.
If you asked Cutler what he thought of last week’s reports of no vote of confidence from his own head coach in John Fox, he’d probably just flash a smile or shrug it off. He’s never let his play interfere with his public persona no matter how some have tried to portray him. On Monday night in the Chicago Bears’ win over the Minnesota Vikings, Cutler made the only statement he needs coming off of a “phantom” thumb injury.
With a 100.5 quarterback rating- the highest passer rating against Minnesota this year- 252 yards, and a touchdown, as well as complete command against the league’s best defense, Cutler showed why he still has a place in professional football. Past that, he showed that the Bears are still his team. A 20-10 win over the Vikings seems modest, but Chicago put together it’s most complete and unexpected performance in years. Their orchestra conductor was all the reason for that cohesion. There’s no coincidence it came with his return.
Fox may still disagree on the sentiment behind his starter. Who knows, maybe the front office and ownership disagree on his effectiveness too. But certainly not Cutler’s teammates, the guys suiting up and battling with him.
You saw it in both the post and pre-game. Stalwart pass rusher, Pernell McPhee, couldn’t stop raving about his quarterback before the contest.
This is the same man that stirred up a storm when yelling in Cutler’s face the last time we saw the veteran on national television in Week 2 against the Eagles. McPhee has never shied away from letting his play be the example, much like Cutler. His thoughts, speak volumes of the impact Cutler has, as on display.
Cutler’s security blanket in Zach Miller, echoed to the chorus, in saying the basic same thing of his quarterback’s triumphant return following the Bears’ victory.
Miller and the Bears know they’re a drastically different team with Cutler under center, and they won’t hold back any doubt- with both their words, and play.
And it’s hard to argue with that ideal.
Chicago has been tantalized for years by what Cutler could do with his arm and his natural talent, but somehow it’s never manifested in a championship. It’s equated to a 51-49 record, basically running in place, waiting for that launch to happen. Plenty of blame goes to Cutler and the organization, but the fact of the matter is, they’re better with him in tow than without. With the proper pieces surrounding him in place, there could be promise of something greater, even if his days on the lakefront are likely numbered.
An emphatic and inherently ironic win over the Vikings, a team that most expected to leave the Bears for dead, proves that again.
Think of a more iconic Cutler win in this era. Think of one where most pundits or fans had written him off or where the Bears were such a heavy underdog- especially at home. The list is not exhaustive.
Last Thanksgiving against the Green Bay Packers comes to mind. Cutler didn’t light up the stat sheet but he managed the game well and arguably outplayed his “rival” Aaron Rodgers for the first time in his career.
There’s also the sterling comeback against the San Francisco 49ers two years ago under Marc Trestman. For all of the punishment he took, four touchdown passes on the road- three in the fourth quarter- on ‘Sunday Night Football’ conjured up dreams of a special season, even if it was the peak of the Trestman era.
Going back even further, a win over the Cleveland Browns (probably not saying much) where Cutler had to restore organizational faith in him following an impressive stretch by Josh McCown. He didn’t play perfectly as he threw two interceptions, but with an efficient 265 yards and three touchdowns, you’d be mistaken to note that result didn’t matter to Cutler with his Chicago career supposedly in doubt.
In fact, it seems every time this quarterback has been pushed up against a wall, he’s surprised us, or at least surprised those that refuse to pay attention. Doubt Cutler at your own risk. Monday night wasn’t a validation of Cutler as a player or leader. It was a stark and valiant reminder.
I don’t know what the future holds for Cutler in Chicago. These next two months will be fascinating to watch. A lot of players on both sides of the ball need to grow up, some need to stake their place on the roster, while Cutler- he just has to hold it all together. And if we’re being frank, the Bears seem just as confused on their plan with him as anyone. The decision on Cutler will likely define this offseason as it has so often in the past. Maybe they move on with a young quarterback or maybe they don’t.
That’s been the paradox of his time here and that’s okay.
What I do know, is that I’m going to have fun seeing it unfold. Cutler enjoys the game and plays with a controlled but reckless abandon. You’re lying as a Bears fan if you didn’t enjoy yourself on Monday night. In actuality, Cutler’s time hasn’t been appreciated enough here. Now every pass, every smile, every ‘Smokin Jay’ meme will have new meaning, because who knows if it’ll be the last. This is but a small vacuum of sports, but emotions will be heavy.
Regardless, it’s guaranteed that Cutler won’t outwardly tell you how he’s feeling. Instead, a laser of a touchdown or interception that he tried to fit in between two defenders will do all the talking.
The best kept secret of the most misunderstood player in the NFL is that he was never hard to read at all.
Robert Zeglinski is the Bears beat writer for the Rock River Times and is a staff writer for Windy City Gridiron and Second City Hockey. You can follow him on Twitter @RobertZeglinski.