Jay Cutler has yet to prove he can close the deal
BY MARK POTASH email@example.com December 25, 2012 11:03PM
Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler (6) warms up prior to an NFL football game against the Arizona Cardinals, Sunday, Dec. 23, 2012, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Matt York)
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Updated: December 26, 2012 2:33PM
Beating the Lions at Ford Field in Week 17 was no problem for Jay Cutler and the Bears in 2009.
Cutler had one of his best games as a Bear that day — throwing four touchdown passes without an interception for a 122 passer rating in a 37-23 victory.
He didn’t even have Brandon Marshall at his side. Cutler’s leading receiver was tight end Greg Olsen. His go-to wide receiver was Devin Aromashodu. He played behind an offensive line that included Chris Williams, Frank Omiyale and Kevin Shaffer.
Cutler looked like he was worth two first-round picks and then some that day. After the Lions rallied for a 20-all tie in the fourth quarter, Cutler silenced the Ford Field crowd by completing 4 of 5 passes for 92 yards and two touchdowns — a perfect 158.3 passer rating — to put the hammer down like the great ones do.
There is only one slight difference this time. Now it matters.
In retrospect, that tremendous performance by Cutler and the Bears in 2009 is looking more like an indictment than a starting point. It was the second half of back-to-back games in which Cutler threw eight touchdowns and one interception in victories over the playoff-bound Vikings and the 2-13 Lions just after the Bears had been mathematically eliminated from the playoffs the week before.
That’s the history Cutler, Marshall and the Bears will be trying to beat Sunday in Detroit — can they do it when it counts? The Bears can thrash bad teams at will and beat good teams in September when they’re comfortably in the playoff picture. But can they win a big game when they absolutely need to?
Coach Lovie Smith’s teams haven’t been up to that task when it ultimately has come down to it. That’s why the Bears have been a No. 1 seed (2006) or No. 2 seed (2005, 2010) or not made the playoffs at all in Smith’s first eight seasons.
In 2008 — the last time the Bears were in a win-or-go-home situation in Week 17 — the 9-6 Bears needed to beat the 7-8 Texans in Houston to keep their hopes alive. They led 10-0 in the first quarter but lost 31-24 to miss out on a wild-card berth.
Later that night in San Diego, Cutler and the Denver Broncos needed only a victory over the Chargers to win the AFC West. The Broncos lost 52-21, with Cutler lamenting his inability to keep up with Philip Rivers. ‘‘They punted once, I think, ’’ he said afterwards. ‘‘It puts a lot of pressure on us.’’
Responding to real pressure has challenged Cutler and the Bears in recent years. When Cutler was a rookie in 2006, the 9-6 Broncos needed only to beat the 6-9 49ers at home in Week 17 to make the playoffs but lost 26-23 in overtime.
The Bears’ most meaningful Week 17 game with Cutler was in 2010, when they had a chance to knock the Packers out of the playoffs but were overwhelmed offensively in a 10-3 loss that came back to haunt them.
‘‘We wanted to be relevant this week in the playoff picture, and we are,’’ Smith said Monday.
If only — as Lovie would say — it were as simple as that. The Bears are ready for the challenge. It remains to be seen if they’re up to it.
10 not always magic number
Ten wins offer no guarantee.
A week after coach Lovie Smith said ‘‘we’re not living in the past’’ when avoiding the issue of Brian Urlacher’s comments about Bears fans, Smith has acknowledged that — with hopes that 10-6 can get the Bears in the playoffs — history is at least a good teacher.
‘‘We’ve gotten ourselves in this position, that’s about all we can hope for,’’ Smith said. ‘‘Just look at the history of the league. Most of the time you get to 10 wins you have a chance to get in, and we’re just going to bank on that.’’
While it’s true that 10 victories gives you a chance to make the playoffs, it doesn’t guarantee anything, especially lately. From 1992 to 2002, every team that won 10 or more games made the playoffs. But in the last nine seasons, six teams have finished 10-6 or better and failed to make it. In 2010, the Giants and Buccaneers did not make the playoffs at 10-6. In 2008, the Patriots didn’t make it at 11-5.
With several teams sprinting to the finish — including the Redskins (six consecutive victories), the Seahawks (six out of seven), the Packers (nine out of 10) and the Vikings (three in a row) — it would not be that unusual for the Bears to finish 10-6 and still not make it.
Here are the 10-win teams that have failed to make the playoffs since 2003:
• 2010 Giants (10-6)
• 2010 Buccaneers (10-6)
• 2008 Patriots (11-5)
• 2007 Browns (10-6)
• 2005 Chiefs (10-6)
• 2003 Dolphins (10-6)
Lots of catches, few wins
Besides being two of the best receivers in the NFL having spectacular seasons, Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson and Bears wide receiver Brandon Marshall have something else in common: Both deserve better.
Johnson is having the most prolific season ever for a wide receiver. Going into Sunday’s game against the Bears, he has 117 receptions for 1,892 yards and five touchdowns. Last week, he broke Jerry Rice’s NFL record for most receiving yards in a season. This week, he can become the first receiver in NFL history with 2,000 or more yards in a season and set the record for most yards per game in a season.
Unfortunately, while the 49ers parlayed Rice’s excellence into Super Bowls, Johnson is heading home after Sunday’s game. The Lions are 4-11. In his last seven games, Johnson has 69 receptions for 1,125 yards — nearly 10 catches for 160 yards a game — yet the Lions have lost every game.
In fact, over his last 17 games, Johnson is averaging eight receptions for 138 yards per game, but the Lions are 4-13 in that span.
In six years with the Lions, Johnson has had 21 games with 100 or more yards in a loss. That’s the most in the NFL in that span. Marshall, the Bears’ hard-luck receiver, is second with 16 in that span. Rice had 24 games with 100 or more yards in a loss, but in 20 years.
Here are the top 10 receivers in 100-yard games since 2007, with their ‘‘won-loss’’ record in those games:
Roddy White, Falcons 33 18-15 .545
Calvin Johnson, Lions 32 11-21 .344
Andre Johnson, Texans 30 20-10 .667
Wes Welker, Patriots 28 22-6 .786
Brandon Marshall, Den/Mia/Bears 26 10-16 .385
Steve Smith, Panthers 25 12-13 .480
Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals 25 13-12 .520
Reggie Wayne, Colts 25 18-7 .720
Greg Jennings, Packers 20 14-6 .700
Vincent Jackson, SD/TB 19 10-9 .526
Marques Colston, Saints 19 11-8 .579