When the Bears acquired Jay Cutler last off-season, it was one of the most exhilarating acquisitions in the history of the organization. It filled the 2009 balloon with hyped-up air that we all watched deflate in a storm of turnovers, injuries and defensive meltdowns. Still I defended Cutler, arguing that he is a special talent and would thrive once the organization installed the kind of system that would maximize his ability. Watching him beat a superior Minnesota Vikings team on a cold December night on the strength of him arm alone confirmed this for me. Lovie Smith hired Mike Martz. And after seven up-and-down weeks, rife with attacking pass rushers and errant throws, Cutler has finally found his place as the quarterback of the Chicago Bears.
Just look at his performance over these last five unbeaten weeks. Cutler has completed 66.2% of his passes for 1,062 yards. He has thrown 10 touchdowns to only 3 interceptions. He’s also rushed for 120 yards. And while the offensive line has improved (if only incrementally) over that time, Cutler has performed as this level while being sacked 14 times in the five games. Those numbers, projected over the course of the season, would still make the Bears the worst pass-blocking team in the league.
Cutler is not perfect. When he abandons his mechanics, does not set his feet and believes too strongly in his own arm strength, he heaves balls into places they don’t belong. (He has abandoned this practice down around the end zone.) He and Martz also choose odd spots to throw deep, often on second-and-long, putting the Bears into rough third-down situations. The absence of the genuine deep threat of late has led to the occasional bomb into double coverage. When you’re instincts are to throw deep, sometimes you just wanna throw deep.
Now Jay Cutler enters the most important phase of his young career in Chicago. He has reduced the turnovers, made plays with his mobility and quieted the newspaper critics who seemed to monitor his facial expressions like detectives would a suspect under the burning lamplight of interrogation. Cutler must now lead the Bears into the postseason the way the game’s best quarterbacks do. He must take advantage of the limited opportunities presented by playing three of your final four games in the cold, cold climates of Chicago and Green Bay. He must not allow this team to perform with the lethargic, detached attitude they displayed over the first thirty minutes in Detroit. And if necessary, he must outplay Aaron Rodgers on the final Sunday of the season to win the NFC North.
History is there now for Jay Cutler. Despite the reservations of the national sports media, the 9-3 Chicago Bears are as good a contender to reach the Super Bowl as any team in the NFC. Twenty-five years after their only Super Bowl victory, the 1985 Bears are still revered and celebrated – sometimes for $100 a ticket. History is there now for the 2010 Bears. And on a football field, it is up to the quarterback to seize it.