Jay Cutler just can’t seem to win
September 11, 2012 3:56PM
Bears quarterback Jay Cutler leaves his feet as he passes the ball in the second quarter of the Chicago Bears 41-21 win over the Indianapolis Colts Sunday September 9, 2012 at Soldier Field. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times
How do you think Jay Cutler dealt with the crowd noise?
Updated: October 14, 2012 1:40PM
Jay Cutler can’t win.
The best quarterback in modern Bears history should be King in Chicago. But even after a stellar performance in a 41-21 victory over the Colts, Cutler’s light-hearted but direct admonition that Bears fans ‘‘tone it down’’ in the red zone so the offense can communicate was met with some resistance Monday. Too arrogant and condescending for some.
Even when he’s right, it seems like he’s wrong — a timely, perhaps ominous, reminder that no matter how bright the future looks, the Bears’ fortunes this season rest with a talented but star-crossed quarterback who might not control his own fate even when things are going his way.
Everything in Cutler’s life appears to be in order today. There’s only one thing that can muck it up — with Cutler, there’s always something. When fate moves its huge hands, Cutler’s arm strength can’t save the day.
At Vanderbilt, he never played in a bowl game and never beat a Division-I team with a winning record. He was 0-3 in overtime. He lost games because of sacks and fumbles, interceptions in overtime, blocked field goals, a blocked punt, a missed PAT, a holding penalty, a 66-yard completion nullified as an illegal forward pass.
When he had a chance to beat No. 19 LSU in 2004, he suffered a neck injury. He had a chance to beat No. 13 Florida in 2005 with a two-point conversion after a late touchdown to Earl Bennett. But an excessive celebration penalty on Bennett forced the Commodores to settle for a tie. Cutler threw a pick in OT and Vandy lost, 49-42.
With the Denver Broncos, Cutler had four opportunities to win one game to make the playoffs and lost each one. In his first game with the Bears, Brian Urlacher suffered a season-ending injury. In 2010 he led the Bears to the NFC Championship Game, but suffered a knee injury against the Packers.
And last season, with the Bears en route to a fifth consecutive victory and 7-3 record, Cutler suffered a broken thumb in typically uncanny fashion — chasing a defender after an interception that happened only because Johnny Knox slipped on the Soldier Field turf.
He had every right to ask ‘‘Why me? Why now?’’ When the Packers’ Aaron Rodgers was intercepted by Urlacher in the NFC Championship Game, Rodgers tripped up Urlacher without a scratch on him — perhaps saving a momentum-turning touchdown.
A week before Cutler broke his thumb last year, the Steelers’ Ben Roethlisberger suffered a broken thumb, but still played the final six games and won five of them. Apparently there’s a ‘‘good’’ broken thumb and a ‘‘bad’’ broken thumb. What a surprise that Cutler ended up with the bad one.
This isn’t Cutler’s favorite subject — he doesn’t have many — so his response when asked if he feels snakebit was predictable: ‘‘No,’’ he said, without further comment.
The Bears’ game against the Packers on Thursday night at Lambeau Field is a fitting scenario not only for the Bears to prove themselves but for Cutler to start exorcising whatever demons might be taunting him. He and Rodgers have a lot in common. They were lightly recruited out of high school. Both were disappointed by then-Illinois coach Ron Turner. Cutler had a scholarship offer rescinded. Rodgers expected an offer from Turner after being the ‘‘most outstanding quarterback’’ at Illinois’ summer camp in 2001, but never received one.
But that’s where the similarities ended. Rodgers ended up at California with coach Jeff Tedford, a noted quarterback guru. Cutler ended up at Vanderbilt with coach Woody Widenhofer, a former Steelers defensive coordinator who was fired after Cutler’s freshman season.
Rodgers’ fortunes turned from there. He was a coin-flip with Utah’s Alex Smith to be the No. 1 pick in the 2005 draft but suffered the embarrassment of plummeting to the Packers at No. 24. It turned into the best thing that ever happened to him.
Cutler’s career with the Broncos didn’t work out as well, but Cutler has to take some of the blame for that. In 2008, the Broncos were 8-5 with three games to go. But Cutler was mediocre in all three (passer ratings of 74.3, 72.4 and 74.9) and the Broncos lost to the Panthers, Bills and Chargers and missed the playoffs.
That led to the firing of Mike Shanahan and hiring of Josh McDaniel, whose pursuit of Matt Cassel irked Cutler enough to demand a trade.
That brought Cutler to Chicago, where he is working with his fourth offensive coordinator in the past five seasons. That has been an excuse for the underachieving Cutler so far. But at some point, the litany of tough breaks, poor protection, miscommunications, subpar receiving corps, lack of continuity, untimely injuries in big games and missed opportunities will reflect back on him.
So far, so good in 2012. But there’s a long way to go for Cutler. In 2008, Cutler had Shanahan and Bates at his side; he and Brandon Marshall had career years and made the Pro Bowl; Cutler had the same starting offensive line in all 16 games and was sacked only 11 times. And the Broncos still found a way to miss the playoffs.
Cutler doesn’t see his luck changing, nor the need for it. ‘‘I was equipped to take advantage of [the opportunity in Denver]. We did pretty well in ,’’ he said. ‘‘I’m the same guy.’’
Actually, he’s better. There is no doubt that Cutler is more mature and smarter now than he was then. He’s ready to win. But considering his star-crossed history, it remains to be seen if his fate is in his own hands.