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.”
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.