On night when Bears needed him to step up, Jay Cutler comes through
By Sean Jensen firstname.lastname@example.org November 7, 2011 11:36PM
Quarterback Jay Cutler completed 18 of 32 passes for 208 yards and two touchdowns. | Nick Laham~Getty Images
Updated: December 9, 2011 8:22AM
PHILADELPHIA — Bears quarterback Jay Cutler entered the game against the Philadelphia Eagles with a modest 5-4 record on “Monday Night Football.”
His statistics were solid: 162-for-261 for 2,024 yards with 15 touchdowns and seven interceptions for a rating of 94.1.
But on a night Matt Forte will want to quickly forget, Cutler kept the Bears in a must-win game, and he carried them to a 30-24 victory.
“Jay is playing lights-out right now, and we’re going to go as far as he takes us,” center Roberto Garza said. “We’re lucky to have him on our side.
“As we get better, there’s no telling what we can do.”
The numbers weren’t astounding compared to some of the video-game stats other quarterbacks have posted this season. Cutler was 18-for-32 for 208 yards. But he didn’t have any turnovers and completed two touchdown passes.
His passer rating was 96.9.
“Jay can make all the throws,” coach Lovie Smith said. “He’s as good as there is once he has time, and we’ve been giving him that time to make the throws.”
Added receiver Earl Bennett, “It’s hard to stop him. Today he played a great game . . . I mean, I love to play with him.”
Cutler started slowly, though, with several passes off the mark and several drops by his receivers. But he quickly heated up as the game progressed.
In the third quarter after consecutive touchdowns by the Eagles, including one after Forte’s second lost fumble, Cutler cobbled together a 10-play, 74-yard drive capped by a 38-yard field goal from Robbie Gould.
He had command of his offense, looking very much like the franchise quarterback the Bears longed for when they traded for him during the 2009 offseason. He led the Bears to the NFC title game last season, but he endured questions about his toughness when he didn’t play most of the second half with a second-degree MCL tear.
Last month on a Monday night against the Detroit Lions, the Bears didn’t win the game. But Cutler was remarkable, completing 28 of 38 passes for 249 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions. He was running for his life, his offensive line erratic and incapable of protecting him consistently.
But the unit has settled with the same starters in the same spots for three consecutive games, and they did their part again against the Eagles — a team that boasts two of the league’s best defensive ends — by not allowing a sack.
“I think the line did a great job,” Cutler said. “It’s just me trusting the pocket and getting a good feel in there.
“Started clicking with Earl and tried to find him a little bit more. It’s just one of those things where you have to feel out the game, and as the game went on, we got a little bit better.”
Forte averaged a healthy 5.5 yards per carry and finished with 133 rushing yards, keeping the Eagles off-balance and opening up the Bears’ offense.
“We can do anything we want,” Cutler said. “We can throw it downfield. We can throw it quick. We can roll out. It’s an array of things we have in this offense.
“When that front five is comfortable and they’re picking things up and the pocket’s clean, with four receivers, it’s going to be hard to stop us.”
Cutler, though, earned his money on third downs.
The Bears were 7-for-14, but 6-for-11 through three quarters.
With five minutes left, Cutler had completed passes to nine receivers.
Bennett, of course, led the way with five catches for 95 yards.
On his fourth-quarter touchdown catch, Bennett beat Eagles cornerback Asante Samuel.
“We knew what type of player Samuel is,” Bennett said. “He likes to bite and cheat. So we were able to take advantage of it.”
Last season, Cutler had Monday night victories over the Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings. He was solid against the Packers and brilliant against the Vikings, completing 14 of 24 passes for 194 yards with three touchdown passes and one interception.
But he didn’t have a blemish on this night — and the Bears probably couldn’t have afforded one.
Now Cutler prepares for a chance to avenge the loss to the Lions, another must-win game. The Packers are 8-0, and the Lions are 6-2. But the Bears at least kept pace with an impressive victory at Lincoln Financial Field.
And they couldn’t have pulled it off without Cutler at the helm.