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.)
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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.
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.