TELANDER: Maturing Cutler had support of teammates all along
BY RICK TELANDER firstname.lastname@example.org | @ricktelander December 15, 2013 8:15PM
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Updated: December 15, 2013 11:39PM
CLEVELAND — You go up and down and all around with this Jay Cutler guy.
And at the end — if he’s still there at the end — you often win.
The Bears did just that Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium, beating the Browns 38-31.
Because of the way backup quarterback Josh McCown had been playing in relief of the injured Cutler the last few weeks, there were Bears fans who didn’t want Cutler to play, those who kind of didn’t want him to play and those who wanted him sent back to Santa Claus, Ind., on a dog-sled runner.
The way Cutler started out, all those vibes seemed warranted.
Indeed, on the Bears’ first drive, he threw an off-target ball to wide receiver Brandon Marshall that was tipped by the Browns’ T.J. Ward before being intercepted in the end zone by teammate Tashaun Gipson.
Nice scoring threat, huh?
McCown, the most humble man on the planet, had thrown one interception in his last 220 passes. At that point, Cutler had thrown one in four attempts.
If this had happened at Soldier Field, Cutler might have become the first Bears player to be pelted into submission by snowballs from his own team’s fans.
But let us say this: Cutler never seems fazed by failure. He came right back and threw an even worse pass in the second quarter that Gipson picked off and ran back 44 yards for a touchdown.
But here was the thing: Gossipmongers notwithstanding, Cutler never had been abandoned by his teammates. As surly and snarky as he can be, he truly had gone out of his way to get teammates on his side.
During the week, knowing he was going to replace McCown, he had spoken with the offensive line, with Marshall, with running back Matt Forte.
‘‘I just wanted to talk to them man-to-man and be like, ‘Hey, if you’ve got a problem with this, I want to know because this is a team game,’ ’’ Cutler said. ‘‘No one reacted negatively. No one flinched.’’
And they played well for Cutler. The line held up. Forte ran for 127 yards. And Marshall and glue-fingered teammate Alshon Jeffery combined for 167 yards receiving.
Maybe it was Jeffery’s impossible touchdown catch of a wild 45-yard fling by Cutler that changed everything. That score made it 24-24 four minutes into the fourth quarter and heralded what I guess we can call ‘‘Cutler Time.’’
Through three quarters, Cutler had a passer rating of 74.0 and had thrown two interceptions. In the fourth quarter, he went 5-for-7 for 71 yards, two touchdowns, no picks and a 143.5 rating.
He has done this again and again this season: off-key early, sharp late. Sometimes it’s his own hole he’s filling, but that’s how gunslingers roll. They don’t always pick the best target as they fire from the hip. But, man, are they fast.
And as he has grown and matured as a person, Cutler has seemed to win his teammates more to his side.
Marshall said the first interception was totally on him (a bad route) and the second was a ‘‘terrible’’ throw by Cutler, the kind of funny-truthful thing you only could say about a pal, somebody right there with you.
Maybe it was all the ‘‘noise’’ around Cutler last week, as Bears coach Marc Trestman called it, the distraction of the doubt and second-guessing by fans and media that strengthened Cutler’s resolve.
Certainly, there was the support of the greatest, most loyal sidekick ever, McCown.
‘‘I’m probably more proud today than any game this year,’’ said McCown, the NFL’s offensive player of the week last week. ‘‘Because what he did was so cool. There was a lot swirling around this thing.’’
‘‘His teammates had his back the whole time,’’ Trestman said of Cutler, whom he never considered removing.
After the game, there was Cutler himself, more expansive, more courteous, more human at the rostrum. So you asked him if he is more communicative with his teammates than he was when he first arrived in Chicago.
‘‘For sure,’’ he said. ‘‘Because at the end of the day, it takes all of us.’’
Then, as he left, he truly blew our minds.
‘‘Thank you,’’ he said.