Tampa Bay Trumps Cutler, Bears in Chicago’s Worst Game of the Season

***Yes, the title is a petty jab at Cutler revealing himself to be a Trump supporter. No, I don’t feel bad about it. I’m emotionally tapped out. Pettiness is what sustains me right now.***

Talk about throwing a bucket of cold water on an already chilly season for the Bears. Despite a 2-6 record, and a rash of injuries that have essentially destroyed any hope for a postseason run, Chicago came into their match up against Tampa Bay with momentum and positivity.

In their last game against the Minnesota Vikings, the Bears, buoyed by the return of Jay Cutler, put on an impressive display of efficiency and discipline, and earned a decisive 20-10 win against a strong defense heading in to their bye week.

The team was energized and even inspired, due in no small part to Cutler’s return and his solid, enthusiastic play against Minnesota. Looking ahead, Chicago fans saw a friendly schedule for the rest of the season, starting this Sunday in Tampa against the mediocre Buccaneers. This was a game the Bears were favored to win, and a game that many predicted Cutler in particular would shine.

Instead, he was flat-out awful.

Look, I like Cutler. Terrible politics aside, I think he is often unfairly maligned and criticized, and that a lot of fans in Chicago irrationally blame him for every misfortune the Bears have suffered since he’s been on the team. I certainly have no illusions that he is an elite QB, but he’s better than he’s given credit for. During the whole Hoyer vs Cutler debacle earlier this season I was stridently pro-Cutty.

But I would’ve pulled Cutler yesterday had Hoyer been available on the bench.

The starting QB turned the ball over four (FOUR!) times against a lackluster defense, including throwing a pick six and fumbling in the Bears’ endzone for a safety. He finished with a 55.1 passer rating, which is actually slightly inflated thanks to a lucky bounce on a 50 yard Hail Mary ┬ápass to Cameron Meredith to end the half. He was incredibly careless with the ball, and on a day where he a clear opportunity to extend some of the goodwill he’d built up in fans and coaches, he turned in possibly his worst performance ever as a Chicago Bear.

That is as unexplainable as it is inexcusable, and no reasonable person can defend his performance. Medical staff took a couple looks at him throughout the game, so maybe his thumb was acting up, but no injury was disclosed, and if something was wrong the coaches and medical staff should have sat him out. I mean, after the safety fumble could Matt Barkley really have made things much worse?

Everyone, even Cutler’s defenders, know that ball security and lapses in judgement are his main flaws. When he can control those, he’s a solid quarterback and a needed playmaker for this offense. When he’s this guy, “Bad Jay” who seems like he has no idea what the game plan is or how to protect a football, he’s infuriating to watch and impossible to defend.

I don’t know what’s going to happen with Cutler after this season, and I don’t think it’s fair to make an absolute declaration based on any one game alone. I do know that if he wants to stand even a small chance of being in Chicago next year, he’s going to need to make sure that for the rest of the season he leaves “Bad Jay” at home.

***Oh, and also Kyle Long is out for the rest of the season and Alshon Jeffery is suspended four games for using perfomance-enhancing substances. So, #BearDown

Cutler Inspirational in Win Against Vikings

Photo credit Jim Larrison/CC BY 2.0

Bears QB ignores the chatter, leads team to a decisive victory on MNF.

Inspiration was the key word on Monday night, when Jay Cutler made his much-anticipated return against the Minnesota Vikings in primetime.

With his future as a Bear in serious doubt, and reports of a team and organization in turmoil, Jay Cutler delivered a rallying speech to his team about finding their inspiration to go out and play ball. And find it they did.

The Bears dominated the now 5-2 Vikings through four quarters of football, out-playing them at every level, and eventually winning 20-10 for their second win of the season.

The defense ripped apart Minnesota’s patchwork offensive line, and the offense had a renewed sense of energy and urgency with Cutler under center. Rookie standout Jordan Howard continued his impressive season with over 200 yards rushing and 1 TD, tight end Zach Miller came up with some big catches for 88 yards, and Alshon Jeffery finally got his first touchdown reception of the year. But the MVP and game ball winner was Jay Cutler.

Looking a little rusty out of the gates, Cutler soon found his rhythm, going 20/31 for 252 yards, 1 TD, no turnovers, and a 100.5 passer rating. He managed the clock well, kept drives alive with his quick footwork and improvisational skills, and lead a strong fourth quarter drive that ate up the clock and ended any hopes Minnesota might have had for a late comeback.

Arguably the most important effect Cutler had was inspiring his teammates to play their best around him. Linebacker Pernell Mcphee said that getting Cutler back brought new life into the team, and Zach Miller told ESPN after the game that he was excited to have Cutler back. “He’s the emotion on the football field. To have him back means a lot. We play well around him.”

Questions remain

The entire week leading up to the game, hell, the entire five weeks Cutler was out with a thumb injury were rife with speculation about his future as the Bears quarterback.

Due in part to backup Brian Hoyer’s above average play, and mostly to coach John Fox’s bizarre desire to remain (at least publicly) noncommittal about the starting quarterback position, fans and media alike began to wonder whether Cutler had played his last snap as a Chicago Bear.

That question was rendered moot when Hoyer went down with a broken arm against the Packers in Week 7, and Cutler was quickly (and to some quite conveniently) cleared by doctors to play against Minnesota.

In his first time speaking to the media since suffering his Week 2 thumb injury, Cutler responded straightforwardly about whether or not he felt he still had Fox’s support as the starting QB.

“He doesn’t have a choice, I guess, at this point.”

Both Cutler and Fox denied any strain in their relationship, with Fox insisting Cutler was always aware that he’d retain his starting position once he got healthy, and refuting media reports that said he had confided in several people that he was “done” with Jay as a player.

Still, that didn’t stop the chatter, with various media reports doubting Fox’s commitment to Cutler, and calling in to question both the quarterback and the head coach’s job security come 2017. There were even reports that the Bears had hired an outside consultant to evaluate the organization from top to bottom, and that Fox could be gone before the Bears face Tampa Bay in Week 10. (This report was also refuted by Fox after Monday’s post game press conference.)

Obviously the win against Minnesota was a huge boost to Cutler, Fox, and the entire Bears organization. For at least a few days people will be talking about their success Monday as opposed to their on and off field struggles. At the same time, one game only changes so much. It remains to be seen what Chicago can put together in the second half of the season, and what decisions lie ahead of them moving forward.

However, if Cutler and the Bears can string together a few more inspirational performances the outlook for both he and the team in 2017 could be very different from what it seemed just a few days ago.