Mayday or Jay day: Can Cutler shoulder the load?
BY RICK MORRISSEY Sports Columnist September 3, 2014 9:53PM
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Updated: October 5, 2014 7:47AM
I never thought I’d feel sorry for Jay Cutler. He has gobs of money. Great wide receivers. An offensive savant for a coach. And who can pull off the customized-conversion-van look the way he can? Nobody, that’s who.
What more could a guy need?
A defense and special teams, to name two things that could haunt him till the day he dies, not that anyone around here is panicking. Oh, no. Not at all.
OK, it’s early yet. If it were any earlier, we’d be rubbing the sleep out of our eyes. The Bears open their season Sunday against Buffalo, and hope is sort of tiptoeing around the city, not sure whether to commit. Maybe all the scary things we saw out of the team in the preseason will vanish against the Bills, and we’ll all feel silly for having had questions/doubts/Mayday, Mayday!
But this is supposed to be the season in which everything finally comes together for Cutler. In his five seasons as a Bear, something has always gotten in the way, whether it was a bad offensive line, a clueless offensive coordinator, his own iffy health, his sometimes questionable decision-making or all those things combined. This season is supposed to be different, what with the Bears coming off an exceptional year on offense and with some offseason signings that figured to make the defense better. This is the one giving Cutler the best chance to show he’s truly a winner.
Then the preseason happened.
Now, most of us know not to put much stock in exhibition games, which are full of empty calories. But we’re human, and we saw what we saw, often with our hands over our faces: a defense that looked old and special teams that were as rocky as a paint shaker.
If the defense plays as poorly as it did in the preseason, the Bears could lose the time-of-possession battle, meaning Cutler would be on the sidelines too often. If special teams play as poorly as they did in the preseason, Cutler could find himself with his back rubbing against his own end zone too often. It’s hard to picture the Bears winning like that. It’s hard to see them finishing 10-6 (my prediction) like that.
I wouldn’t say I’m feeling all-out sorry for Cutler, though I wonder if he’ll need to legally change his name to Poor Jay Cutler by the end of the season. This is more in anticipation of what might happen. A feeling. A hunch. Just when it looked like this might be the season for Cutler, is it possible it won’t be?
It’s also possible that this is the normal trepidation that goes with every regular-season opener. But the Bears have to prove that they have NFL-caliber safeties and that advanced age isn’t a problem on defense. Until they do, that trepidation won’t go away. Getting a pass rush, starting with new Bear Jared Allen, will help both of those issues.
Meanwhile, the weight of the world will be on Cutler to make this work. Sorry, but that’s what it looks like from the vantage point of several days before the opener. He and the offense will need to do more.
Allen, for one, isn’t worried.
“Jay is incredible,’’ he said Wednesday. “I played with Brett [Favre]. Brett would make some throws, and some people would just say, ‘Why?’ Because he can. That’s Jay. Jay can make every throw. Jay can make throws that most people can’t make. From playing against him all those years, I know how difficult that is to defend against.
“I firmly believe if Jay’s healthy the last two years, the Bears probably win the division.’’
That “if’’ is the problem. There always seems to be an “if’’ when it comes to Cutler. It would be nice to see what the guy could do with everything working for the Bears. Then we’d know, once and for all, whether he’s the winner the team insists he is.
At the end of every season, we’ve been able to point to why it wasn’t Cutler’s year. Sometimes it was on him. Other times, it wasn’t. More of the pieces are supposed to be in place this season.
But that preseason. It has sent public confidence levels tumbling.
Chill, say the Bears. Trying, we respond.
“The real test of who we are is coming up on Sunday,’’ noted linebacker and restaurant owner Lance Briggs said.
We’ll know soon enough whether to address the rich quarterback as Poor Jay.