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TELANDER: Despite Cutler’s ‘boo-worthy performance,’ QB still finds way to win

Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler throws long bomb thwas intercepted first quarter Chicago Bears-CarolinPanthers NFL game Sunday October 28 2012 Soldier

Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler throws a long bomb in that was intercepted in the first quarter of the Chicago Bears-Carolina Panthers NFL game Sunday October 28, 2012 at Soldier Field. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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How do you possibly win a game like this one?

Jay Cutler was so bad in the first half I thought maybe the Bears would start running the single wing, with four guys in the backfield and Matt Forte taking snaps.

It’s hard to envision a worse quarterback start to a game than Cutler had, unless you’re daydreaming about Rusty Lisch and Jonathan Quinn.

The game was dumb, but the first quarter—oh, my friends—that was dumberer.

Cutler was sacked on his first play, intercepted on his fifth, sacked on his 11th and sacked and lost a fumble on his 12th. End of quarter. Net passing yards: minus-five. And yet the Bears led 7-3, thanks to a Forte 13-yard touchdown run.

I saw it. I don’t understand it. But there it was.

And now that I check things more carefully, that second quarter was beyond dumberer to most dumbest.

How about this: Cutler is sacked on the first series. Cutler throws incomplete on his next five passes. Cutler is sacked with 19 seconds to go. Cutler is sacked and loses a fumble with 14 seconds to go. Net passing yards for the half: minus-15. Clown factor: plus-a million.

Lip readers claim Cutler said an angry, naughty word or two about the Soldier Field fans as he trotted off for halftime. Well, that’s our boy. He swears to his own drummer, and he’s got the arrogance that one supposes a quarterback needs to come back from such disasters as this and actually pull out a win.

To be clear, the fans were loudly booing Cutler and the offense as the first half ended. That’s what you do when you’ve paid good money to watch garbage. Indeed, at times it seemed Cutler was only nominally at the game at all. His brain seemed to be wafting through the afternoon breeze like a soaring birthday balloon or aimless pigeon. His insouciance is such that you halfway expect him to sneer plays rather than call them. That’s Jay.

``I’d boo us, too,’’ he said afterward. ``It was a boo-worthy performance, if you will.’’

We will.

And yet, the Bears won. Hard to believe. I suppose we must give a big shoutout to Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, whose pass for wide receiver Steve Smith in the left flat with 6:52 left was neatly intercepted by Bears cornerback Tim Jennings for a 25-yard touchdown.

And you have to thank the Panthers coaching ``think tank’’ for asking Newton to attempt a futile 33-yard end zone pass as time expired in the first half, rather than have kicker Justin Medlock try a 50-yard field goal. Remember this game’s score? Plus, Medlock would only make four field goals on the day, including a 43-yarder and a 45-yarder.

Such decisions, it seems, are how a coach like Ron Riviera might soon find himself unemployed.

Oh well. This is about Cutler.

And the quarterback said of the horrendous beginning, ``We’re not worried. I don’t think you can hit the panic button offensively.’’

Well, you could. But Cutler didn’t, and he would, come back when it was almost—almost -- too late.

He didn’t get into positive net passing yardage (which includes yards lost on sacks) until just seconds before the fourth quarter. But then he did what a winning quarterback must do. Win.

He hit a 12-yard TD pass to tight end Kellen Davis. Then came Jennings’ return TD, giving the Bears the lead at 20-19. Then came a Panthers field goal, making it 22-20, Panthers.

Then came a two-minute, 55-yard drive in which Cutler completed 6-of-7 passes and set up Robbie Gould’s game-winning field goal as time expired.

How did this happen? Is this a sign of a terrific team, one that can overcome a general malaise that had even head coach Lovie Smith admitting ``I didn’t have my best performance today.’’

Are these guys so casual and cocky that they figure they can pick it up any time they want? Just cut a half’s worth of sacks from six to none? Score the game-winning points whenever needed?

``Not at all,’’ said wide receiver Brandon Marshall, whose nine catches for 98 yards seemed to show that his head was in the game. ``I wish we could say that we had that type of team.’’

What Marshall says they do have is a cold-blooded quarterback who “gets that smile” at crunch time when others, like Marshall himself, ``are sitting there shaking.’’

Smile or sneer, it works. What can you say?

Six and one.

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