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Is Jay Cutler a superstar or is he going to be Steve DeBerg?

Journeyman quarterback Steve DeBerg who started 140 games for six teams over 18 seasons wzero playoff games. | Scott Halleran~Getty

Journeyman quarterback Steve DeBerg, who started 140 games for six teams over 18 seasons, won zero playoff games. | Scott Halleran~Getty Images

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Updated: January 17, 2013 6:26AM



Anybody remember Steve DeBerg?

The epitome of a journeyman quarterback, the big-armed Californian logged 18 seasons starting or relieving with six NFL teams. His epitaph will read that he was displaced by Hall of Famers Joe Montana in San Francisco and John Elway in Denver and by No. 1 overall draft pick Vinny Testaverde at Tampa Bay.

A QB who sticks around that long is bound to put up numbers, and DeBerg did: 34,241 yards, 196 TD throws, a 74.2 rating. But he never won a playoff game, never heard himself hailed as a franchise quarterback, and Bill Walsh damned him with the faintest possible praise in explaining a move to Montana during the 1980 season.

DeBerg, Walsh said, “is good enough to get you beat.”

Meaning you’ll play him if you decide he’s the best you’ve got and you have to, but certain situations in certain games will be beyond him.

Watching Jay Cutler struggle against Minnesota last week brought back a memory of Steve DeBerg.

I know, Cutler is 32-21 as the Bears’ starter and may yet gain affirmation as a franchise quarterback on a team that wouldn’t know what one looks like. But what if he’s simply not that good? Last Sunday wasn’t the first time Mr. Pouty didn’t have it when the Bears needed something special from him.

If a team is sound enough in all other phases, it’s almost incidental who plays quarterback: The Bears rode defense and special teams to a Super Bowl with Rex Grossman taking their snaps; the Baltimore Ravens won one with Trent Dilfer.

But recent developments have exposed alarming deficiencies in and around Cutler. Would anyone suggest the Bears are good enough to win a meaningful game with anything less than Pro Bowl-caliber play at quarterback?

Only five weeks have passed since the Bears were 7-1, stealing the ball with the brazen gall of a Michigan Avenue pickpocket and primping for the lengthy playoff run Cutler’s broken thumb denied them last season. The city was giddy. New Orleans in February? Perfect.

But once those turnovers stopped coming, so did the points. And the wins. The Bears are 8-5 and wheezing. Euphoria has given way to debilitating angst. They can squeak into the playoffs by stealing Sunday’s game from the revving-up Packers, sure, and there is the old bromide that anything can happen once you’re in the tournament — witness the Giants last year or Green Bay in 2010.

But let’s be real here — the Bears’ postseason prospects are less promising than Rod Blago’s political future. They seemed to age before our eyes in the Seattle game; that thud you heard as frisky Russell Wilson was directing two late, long scoring drives was the ominous sound of a title window closing. With most of the tacklers on the plus side of 30 and the blockers consistently overmatched, that window is not likely to reopen for the current roster.

You’re up, Phil Emery. You were hired for this.

Jon Gruden or Bill Cowher isn’t walking through the coach’s office door any time soon, so Lovie Smith probably gets the final year of his contract regardless of what Emery thinks of him. It’s hard to imagine the tight-fisted Bears paying Smith $5 million not to coach, never mind anteing up for Gruden or Cowher.

Some Cubs-like rebuilding? It worked for the Indy Colts, and in no time, largely because first-year general manager Ryan Grigson committed to a total roster makeover. That has never been the Bears’ style.

Grigson also lucked into Andrew Luck, of whom it can be said after 13 games that he’s no Steve DeBerg.

While pondering whether Cutler is, it’s worth asking if Emery has any Jim Finks in him. Finks’ name fades as time passes, but he was the last Bears front-office boss who truly grasped and mastered the concept of team building.

Without Jim Finks, there are no ’85 Bears. Imagine this city deprived of that.



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