Jay Cutler has loads of ability, but his early picks are worrisome
BY RICK TELANDER email@example.com October 7, 2012 10:00PM
Jay Cutler threw for 292 yards and two touchdowns Sunday against the Jaguars, but his first pass of the game was intercepted, continuing a disturbing trend this season. | Phelan M. Ebenhack~AP
Updated: November 9, 2012 6:18AM
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — This is a nice, warm place where people come to fish.
On Sunday, Jay Cutler cast his line out toward the Atlantic Ocean and reeled in a couple of big bluefins and a slimy dogfish.
The trophies were his two touchdown passes, a 24-yard strike to Brandon Marshall and a 10-yard bullet to Alshon Jeffery in the Bears’ 41-3 wipeout of the Jacksonville Jaguars.
The dogfish was his first pass of the game, a lousy toss that was intercepted by cornerback Derek Cox. The Bears had been on offense for only 30 seconds.
What’s the deal with the early interceptions Cutler seems to throw in almost every game? Are they his way of getting his own attention, of remembering how to tie the hook to the leader and the leader to the line?
‘‘No, it’s not to settle down,’’ Cutler said when I asked pretty much the above. ‘‘It was unfortunate. He steps right in front of the guy. Made a good play, as simple as that. It’s going to happen.’’
The game started so badly for the Bears’ offense in general that you thought maybe the players should go take a nap on the beach. The sand is pretty and white, you know. And it was 88 degrees and sunny. Snooze.
Cutler was half asleep, it seemed, for most of the first half. He completed 10 of 20 passes for 110 yards and that interception in the first two quarters. The Bears converted only two of their third-down conversions in the first half and were tied 3-3.
‘‘Thank God we play two halves,’’ coach Lovie Smith said.
Indeed. Because in the second half, the Bears’ defense opened a can of good ol’ Southern whoop-ass on the Jaguars. When a defense holds a team to three points and scores two touchdowns itself, it almost makes you feel sorry for the home team and its overmatched young quarterback, Blaine Gabbert.
The 22-year-old kid from Missouri threw two interceptions that were returned for touchdowns, was sacked and fumbled the ball away and finished with a 37.7 quarterback rating. That’s like a D-minus.
‘‘I can talk up here all night about what we did, but that’s not going to cure anything,’’ Gabbert said at the postgame rostrum.
This is important as it relates to the Bears and Cutler. For even when the 29-year-old Cutler screws up, it seems as though the problems are solvable.
In the second half, Cutler looked alert and locked in. Maybe that was a function of having Marshall out there as an unstoppable one-on-one target.
Such was the case when Marshall ran a stop-and-go on the right sideline, leaving his defender with multiple wind burns — if not dislocated ankles — en route to a beautiful grab of a perfectly thrown touchdown pass by Cutler.
‘‘He’s that guy,’’ Cutler said succinctly after the game, referring to Marshall.
He meant Marshall is the big, strong, fast No. 1 receiver he was supposed to be when he was acquired during the offseason.
The good part for Cutler is that he is a battle-tested veteran and, as such, never should descend into the blindness or lack of awareness that will haunt a guy such as Gabbert until he matures, grows stronger and smarter or is sent out of the league.
This means Cutler’s starting point is higher than that of most quarterbacks, so he can afford those weird starts — for now — and still end up 23-for-37 for 292 yards, two touchdowns, one interception, an 88.8 rating and an easy ‘‘W.’’
But if we’re looking for a downside in a 38-point victory, there is that seemingly unavoidable bad start he casts out there.
Consider: Cutler threw an interception on his second pass of the season in the opener against the Indianapolis Colts. He threw one in the second quarter against the Green Packers. He threw one in the first quarter against the
St. Louis Rams, then his first pass of this game was an interception.
There are true Cutler haters out there, such as Hall of Fame quarterback Terry Bradshaw, who commented Sunday on Fox about Cutler’s sideline treatment of offensive coordinator Mike Tice last Monday in Dallas.
‘‘I like everybody,’’ Bradshaw said. ‘‘I’d like to like you, but right now I don’t like you. Grow up, young man.’’
Cutler is his own guy, aloof and self-contained. Maybe that will hurt him someday as a Bears quarterback. Maybe he can overcome it.
But when the Bears play like they did Sunday, even the bad casts turn out fine. And Bradshaw’s words are like old shrimp.