The last Bears-Packers game of 2013. The last game of the regular season. With an NFC North title and a trip to the playoffs at stake, the Chicago Bears came up short, losing 33 – 28 off a late 48 yard touchdown pass from Aaron Rodgers to Randall Cobb. Safety Chris Conte’s blown coverage was the post game story but it was all about Jay Cutler before kick off. It was money time for the up-and-down quarterback and, luckily, Cutler’s Last Stand looked nothing like Custer’s Last Stand which, if you recall from history class, ended in embarrassing, severe and bloody defeat. Still, it ended with a loss and that’s enough to question his value to the team. The man some Chicago media calls “Mr. Fourth Quarter” played well enough in the Bears 2013 season finale. But did his play justify the QB1 status he’ll have for the next seven years in Chicago? Did his effort warrant a contract fit for a Pro Bowl, top-tier quarterback? $126 million dollars certainly comes with a lot of expectations and a lot of questions.
In the Soldier Field season finale, Jay Cutler was efficient. Not spectacular or record-setting but solid enough to move the chains and put points on the scoreboard. With 226 yards, 1 touchdown and 1 interception off 24 pass attempts, Cutler earned a 103.8 passer rating, almost 20 points better than his Green Bay counterpart. He spread the ball around to his favorite targets with Marshall catching 6 balls, Jeffery hauling in 3 catches and Forte grabbing 4 as a receiver out of the backfield. Jay Cutler concluded the 2013 season with the highest passer rating of his career and recorded yard-per-game averages that he hasn’t touched since his lone Pro Bowl season in ’08 as a Bronco. He – along with the efforts of backup Josh McCown – placed the Bears in the top five on the Points per Game leaderboard. Marc Trestman may very well be the quarterback whisperer but the arms of Cutler and McCown took the offense somewhere it hasn’t been in quite some time. By the numbers, Jay Cutler has done enough to prove his worth as an above average quarterback in the NFL, one that may eventually live up to guarantees topping $50 million. But the eye test tends to tell us a different story.
Was it wise to sink millions, upon millions of dollars into a quarterback that isn’t an iron man at the position? Perception: Jay Cutler is injury prone. He did missed 5 games this past season with a groin and then an ankle injury. But he hasn’t missed as much time over the years as our perceptions lead us to believe. Reality: Beyond this past season and the 2011 season, where his missed 6 games with a freak thumb injury, Cutler has been available for 15 plus games every season in the NFL. Not bad for a QB ranked 14th among active quarterbacks in being sacked. He gets hit a lot. And why can’t he show the leadership of a Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers? Franchise quarterbacks look and act like team captains, not unkempt, upset children. Perception: the Bears quarterback remains puss faced, unkind to teammates, fans and the media alike. Reality: Cutler appeared more mature this season when cameras trolled him on the sidelines and during his back-and-forth with the media. In the weeks Jay was present for his radio show – The Jay Cutler Show on ESPN Radio 1000 – he sounded natural and jovial, almost comfortable trading jabs with Tom Waddle and answering pointed questions from Marc Silverman. The reports out of the locker room tell us he’s a better teammate as well. But his anti-media nature and tell-it-straight mentality doesn’t lend itself to the tact and grace we expect from QB1 on the depth chart. Should a top-tier quarterback be a media schmoozer and interview junky? Maybe. But if his performance betters next season, it won’t really matter. Perception: he plays roughest when the going gets tough. Jay Cutler’s brief Chicago history has provided many blunder filled moments. 3 interceptions against the Lions earlier this season, 4 more to the Packers early last season and 4 to Redskins cornerback DeAngelo Hall in the same game, to name a few. It’s undeniable that Jay Cutler has, and will have, bad games. His strong arm and make-any-throw mentality makes for some flawed results. Reality: he’ll get better. He already has. Head coach Marc Trestman and quarterback coach Matt Cavanaugh are teaching him when to throw the ball away and pressuring him to make better decisions faster. Cutler actually respects the coaching staff in a way he only paid lip service to with the past regime. Year one with the new offensive staff looked pretty good despite a sub par 3.4% interception percentage (28th ranked in 2013). Year two will look even better. The proof will be in Jay’s play on the field but, all in all, 2013 looked to be a breakeven point in his rise out of QB mediocrity.
The dollars have been spent and now its prove-it time for the newly minted Bears franchise quarterback. To fans, it shouldn’t be about the money, it should be about the wins. Brandon Marshall, outspoken as always, summarized it best on Twitter: “BOOM.. . JAY 7 for 126.. . Congrats now let’s go win.”
Niral Patel ~ SecCitySportsReport@gmail.com