He, the Chicago quarterback of perpetual grumpiness (although Smokin’ Jay Cutler was magical), completely great or completely terrible performances, and just enough talent and underachieving to make someone unhappy, has plenty of critics.
This year, he’s been at it again. He feuded with coaches on the sideline. He called out teammates (also on the sidelines). He was great and then stunk, and then was great and then stunk again. He’s at the center of “Is he a great quarterback?” discussions — if the critics aren’t more concerned with “Why doesn’t he smile at staff on his way to games?” (seriously, Tom Jackson).
But maybe we need to stop making fun of Jay Cutler for being so very Jay Cutler (this photo captures it all) and look at the more vital matter of what he means to Chicago as the Bears’ quarterback.
Plenty of people want to look at Cutler’s good games and call him elite or focus on his bad ones and call him terrible. But the only question that matters is whether Cutler has been good for the Bears.
And, as the Bears sit at 8-3 following a 28-10 win where Cutler completed 23 of 31 passes with a touchdown after sitting out with a concussion, maybe it’s time to recognize Cutler for what he really is. Elite? No. A “winner,” like they like to call Tim Tebow a winner? Eh, no. Great? Gaudy statistics? Unstoppable? No, no and no. But a great quarterback for Chicago? Now we’re talking.
Cutler has been in Chicago since 2009, and he’s played in 51 games for the Bears. He’s 32-19 over that time — but 26-9 in games he both started and finished (we’re talking injuries, not blowouts, here). In games where Cutler was completely sidelined or knocked out of the game in the first half, the Bears have gone 1-8.
Now, numbers can be twisted many ways, but those back up Cutler pretty well considering the other surrounding evidence — that is, how the Bears fared before Cutler arrived. Short of whipping out numbers that will prove that the defense was the only reason Chicago was winning any games in the years before Cutler arrived (and, even then, we’re talking just four above-.500 seasons since 2002), the definitive proofs of Cutler’s greatness can be limited to listing the names of Brian Griese, Kyle Orton, Rex Grossman, Chad Hutchinson and Kordell Stewart. The Bears have put many men under center, and all have failed, epically — except Cutler.
Chicago is and always will be built on its defense. The team has a great tradition on the stopping side of the ball, and this year’s rendition shows why it makes sense to bet on good defense year after year. Brian Urlacher, Charles Tillman and the always-hard-charging Bears defense can at least keep Chicago in games, if not win them — as the defense has done several times this season. Chicago is smart to continually build its team around that philosophy and invest in defensive players.
What the team then needs from its offense is to just hold its own, and to not mess up. And after years where the lineage of Griese, Orton, Grossman, Hutchinson and Stewart (as well as their spot-start buddies) mastered the interception and three-and-out, having a quarterback in Chicago who can lead a decent drive, toss for more than 3,000 yards or 25 touchdowns in a season, and at least finish off what the defense sets up should be more than enough. And it has — as attested by the Bears’ record. Cutler isn’t phenomenal in every game, but he’s putting the Bears in place to win.
On top of that, Cutler was just a bad knee injury away from taking the Bears all the way to the top in 2010, and there’s no reason to think he can’t do it again.
Now, Cutler has his bad games and poor decision-making, and he needs to be his best if the Bears want to move from the modest vision of a 10-win season to dreams of championships. But as Cutler showed by jumping back into the mix this Sunday and doing enough to help the Bears to another victory, he has been doing enough for Chicago to win, and win often. With a franchise that couldn’t always say that in recent years, that’s a big deal.
Every team wants a top-tier quarterback — a Tom Brady or Peyton Manning to throw the game on his back and lead the team to greatness. But even teams with great quarterbacks have to produce across the rest of the field. Chicago has put its chips on the defensive side and just needs its passer to hold his own.
Cutler has the tools to be great when needed, but even better for the Bears, he has the ability to not be terrible. With a team built for defense, he may just have the right amount of talent — and the ability to avoid horrific mistakes.
Cutler takes plenty of criticism both on and off the field for being a little too blah. But in Chicago, where a ferocious defense steals the spotlight, a consistent blah and the wins that come with it are far better than what the Bears have had before.