Deadly turnover far from the whole Jay Cutler story in Bears loss


Deadly turnover far from the whole Jay Cutler story in Bears loss

The pass that Jay Cutler threw to Green Bay Packers linebacker Clay Matthews in the Bears’ 31-23 loss last Sunday rightly has drawn arguably as much scrutiny as any interception Cutler has thrown in his years as Bears quarterback. There have been more bewildering jaw-droppers, but this was supposed to have been an improved model Cutler with the support of a run game and a more efficient offensive philosophy under coordinator Adam Gase.

And nothing mitigates the degree of catastrophe the interception brought down, particularly in view of turnover-reduction being the far-and-away highest priority of the incoming offensive staff under Gase.

But pull the camera back for a moment, and it turns out there was more to this Cutler game than simply same-old-Jay and franchise/coach/coordinator-killing turnovers. Cutler did not play well or even good enough. But there was more to his game than that interception.

(And since “View from the Moon” cannot be accused of being an agenda-driven forum for either trashing or puffing up the Bears’ quarterback over his seven Chicago seasons, this might reasonably be considered “fair.” But that’s not for your humble and faithful narrator to decide.)

[MORE BEARS: Bears lose the substitution battle vs. Rodgers, Packers]

First, Cutler’s losing play this time a year ago was an interception by a Buffalo Bills defensive tackle, so at least Cutler isn’t yet throwing interceptions to immovable objects. Feel better?

But consider: When I first noted that Cutler had not turned the ball over through the first week-and-a-half of training-camp practices, the dismissive reaction was amusing, as though simply reporting the fact was somehow a statement that there was another “new” Jay Cutler in town. Not even remotely the case or point, nor even after Cutler ran 80 preseason snaps without a turnover (vs. his rate of about one in every 39 snaps during the 2014 season). For that matter, using the diminutive sample size, Cutler’s one turnover last Sunday was amid 71 snaps.

For comparison’s sake, in his two Green Bay games last season, Cutler turned the ball over five times in 145 combined snaps — once every 29 plays.

The simple fact, and it was obvious at the moment it happened, is that Cutler failed to read properly the coverage as it was unfolding, failed to put the football in the optimal spot where either his receiver or no one was catching it and that Matthews made the best of several plays on Sunday in which he exhibited speed even surprising to those who’ve seen him multiple times each season.

[MORE BEARS: Bears Grades: Cutler starts off strong, but Matthews pick stung]

Isolated performances can be overrated. Phil Emery lavished a seven-year contract potentially worth $126 million with one of the stated reasons being Cutler’s engineering of a fourth-quarter comeback against the Cleveland Browns.

But after throwing the Matthews interception, Cutler completed four of six passes in the course of a 72-yard touchdown drive that brought the Bears to within a kickoff recovery of going for another tying score.

He managed just a very pedestrian 77.1 passer rating for the fourth quarter. But it was at least an improvement from his 60.6 through three quarters, and if the Matthews interception were simply incomplete, Cutler is a 99.3 passer.

More significantly, and uncharacteristically, Cutler effected that even modest improvement under extreme pressure, against a good team, in a massively important game. Cutler put up exceptional fourth-quarter passing numbers in 2013, but those were misleading because the Bears held a lead in many early season fourth quarters and the offense still held the threat of balance. This time, take it for what it and he was.

“Jay played a hell of a game,” said wideout Alshon Jeffery. “He played his (butt) off.”

And maybe that, as much as the one turnover, is the real takeaway on Cutler last Sunday.

Charles Leno says 'it's just gonna suck' without Kyle Long around

Charles Leno says 'it's just gonna suck' without Kyle Long around

Chicago Bears left tackle Charles Leno, Jr. has a fond place in his heart for right guard Kyle Long. He's probably not alone in the Bears locker room with his feelings for the seven-year pro and three-time Pro Bowler.

Since being selected in the first round of the 2013 NFL draft, Long has ascended into a leadership role with the Bears both on and off the field. And while his play in recent seasons has been negatively impacted by a variety of injuries (Long's been limited to just 29 games over the last four years), he still offered an experienced voice in the huddle and an enforcer's mentality after the snap.

But we may have seen the last of Long in a Bears uniform after the team officially placed him on season-ending injured reserve Monday (hip). It was news that Leno struggled to embrace.

“It’s the tale of the league for you,” Leno said from Halas Hall. “He’s been through the highest of highs and the lowest of lows, and that’s just how the league goes. You never know when that time is going to come. His happened so fast. So abrupt. It’s like, ‘Damn. He’s not going to be here.’ So it just sucks. That’s how I look at it — it’s just gonna suck.”

Long hasn't been great this season. His play was progressively getting worse, too. He has the lowest Pro Football Focus grade of any player on Chicago's offense (38.0) and played his worst two games of the year in Weeks 3 and 5 (he missed Week 4 with the hip injury).

It was time to shut him down. Maybe for good.

“This is his words — he said he’s a Bear for life,” Leno said of his conversation with Long. “[Those are] the words I remember him saying. That’s how he wanted to end things.”

That certainly doesn't sound like a player who expects to ever wear a Bears jersey again. It's a shame, but it's also the reality of professional football for an offensive lineman. No position absorbs as much wear and tear as the big uglies up front, and Long is a perfect example. He was once considered the most promising young interior offensive lineman in the NFL just a few years ago. Now, it's anyone's guess if he'll ever play another snap.

“When he was healthy and he was on, he was a dominant football player," Leno said. "I told him plenty of times, ‘Get back to that [2013, 2014, 2015] self.’ It just sucks because so many times he would try to get back to it and had to take a step back. When injuries compile, it’s just really [unfortunate].”

The Bears will look to fill Long's starting role with either Rashaad Coward, Ted Larsen or rookie Alex Bars. And while one (or all) of them will provide an upgrade on the field, none will be able to replace Long's larger-than-life presence everywhere else.

The Bears are getting key contributors Bilal Nichols and Taylor Gabriel back sooner than later

USA Today

The Bears are getting key contributors Bilal Nichols and Taylor Gabriel back sooner than later

The Bears returned to Halas Hall with a flurry of injury updates, most notably involving Kyle Long and Mitch Trubisky

And while the starting quarterback for Sunday's game against New Orleans is still TBD, wide reciever Taylor Gabriel will be back out there. Gabriel technically announced his return via Instagram on Sunday night, but confirmed to reporters on Monday that he's been cleared to play. 

"It’s just good to be back, to be around the guys," he said. "To be on the sideline just watching what’s been going on, I’ve been hungry to get back on the field... I probably practiced the hardest I’ve ever practiced in my life. I just had fun, and am glad I’m back." 

Gabriel suffered a concussion in the second half of the Bears' win in D.C., and dealt with the lingering effects of it up until last week. 

"I just woke up and I felt like myself," he said. "It was just a blessing. You always hear about concussions and all the crazy things. The athletic trainer, they did a great job with the whole process. I’m glad that I’m back."

Gabriel was coming off the best game of his Bears tenure: a six-catch, 75 yard performance that included three first-half touchdowns. The third touchdown – a 36-yarder featuring a highlight-reel catch – showcased the type of wrinkle that the Trubisky-Gabriel connection can bring to the offense. 

"The one thing that Taylor brings is he has that one element of downfield speed that helps out," Matt Nagy said. "So you’re able to take the top off of some defenses with him. And then he’s one of those wide receivers for us, like Allen Robinson, he’s got experience. So there’s a calming in the huddle that you understand that he knows what to do versus certain coverages. He’s coming off a pretty good game in Washington, and unfortunately got hurt, but there’s a calming element to him and then being able to take the top off.”

The Bears also had good news regarding second-year defensive tackle Bilal Nichols. Nichols returned to practice for the first time since breaking his hand during the Week 2 win in Denver. It's especially good news considering the team expects to be without Akiem Hicks sidelined for the foreseeable future. 

"[I] felt good today," Nichols said. "Just trying to continue to keep moving in the right direction and we'll see where it goes." 

Nichols wouldn't commit to playing on Sunday, and plans to see how he feels after a full week of practice. Nagy indicated that, at this point in his recovery, it's more about getting back into playing shape. 

"He’s been out a couple weeks, so now it’s just the ability for him to show probably more conditioning than anything," he said. "He has that cast on him, but he has the fingers that he’s able to use. Again, if you’re able to be out there and you’re able to suit up and go out there, then to me, let’s go.”

If Nichols is able to play against New Orleans, he'll do so wearing a club for extra protection. This was the first hand injury he's ever suffered, and Nichols admitted that playing with the cast takes some getting used to. Leonard Floyd wore the same type of club during the first half of last season, and has talked with Nichols about how to deal with it. 

"He's giving me a lot of insight and what to expect," Nichols said. "And things that he did that helped him out a lot. You know, we'll see. I'm going to try some things out."