After a decidedly pedestrian first half, including 0-for-3 in the second quarter, Jay Cutler exploded on the Kansas City Chiefs in a fourth quarter that saw him complete 11 of 21 passes for 114 yards, shake off two potentially devastating drops by his receivers, and direct touchdown drives of 88 and 67 yards for an 18-17 victory that rocked even his own locker room.
Cutler finished with 26-for-45 passing for 252 yards, two touchdowns and zero interceptions for the first time in 2015. Cutler absorbed two sacks but stayed on track with a passer rating of 88.4. It marked the second straight fourth-quarter comeback for the Cutler Bears and 23rd of his nine-year career, only four coming over the previous two seasons combined.
But Cutler was directing the praise elsewhere.
“I feed off those guys [teammates],” he said. “Honestly I have a lot of pride but I didn’t really feel good about the first half. But at that quarterback position you have to count on those guys and you have to count on everyone to do their job.”
The win, which also included Cutler directing an 11-play drive for 73 yards and a third-quarter Robbie Gould field goal, was accomplished with Cutler dropping in perfect passes to Marquess Wilson for 22 yards and a touchdown, followed 3 minutes later by Cutler managing to pick up a low snap and recover to feather a seven-yard throw to Matt Forte for the winning points with 18 seconds remaining.
Both throws were in the ideal of being where either Cutler’s receivers or no one was going to make the catch.
“It was an amazing throw,” Wilson said of his ball, landed between two Kansas City defensive backs. “He put it exactly where it needed to be, right on the money. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like that. He threw that before I even got out of my break… . It was a phenomenal throw.”
But it was what Cutler did in the days leading up to Sunday that arguably was nearly as important big-picture as what he did to the Chiefs. Cutler cajoled, encouraged, berated and otherwise coached up his group of inexperienced receivers in ways that domino’ed into a win that an evolving team and players needed for their confidence.
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“I think Adam [Gase, offensive coordinator] and Mike [Groh, receivers coach] put a lot of trust in the quarterbacks just to help coach these guys up,” Cutler said, then smiled. “Coaches can only go so far. At some point you’ve got to tune them out and players need to take some ownership.”
On Sunday, Cutler also made a conscious effort to quicken the pace in the second half in order to minimize the think-time for young players like center Hronis Grasu and left tackle Charles Leno.
With a receiver group that included Wilson and Josh Bellamy starting at wideouts, Cutler had few easy throws to wide-open receivers, yet took the lead himself with a run on a read-option, a second called run when he dove for a first down and avoided turnovers other than a sack-fumble in the first quarter that the Chiefs recovered in the end zone for a touchdown.
“I just need to hang onto the ball and avoid the safety,” Cutler said.
Moon's Grade: A