Some of the reaction to CSNChicago.com’s quarterback grade for Jay Cutler (C-) was surprisingly strident. Not entirely surprising; nothing involving Cutler, good or bad or otherwise, passes quietly. So it warrants another look.
First understand: Absolutely nothing in the grading process, quarterback or any, involves liking or disliking a player for reasons other than that game’s performance. Cutler is a polarizing figure to a significant segment of the Chicago football public; not here. The amusing footnote here are the reactions when past critiques have seen evidence of improvement and the Cutler haters come flying out. Not important here, one way or the other.
The situation is most definitely one involving weighting; the fourth quarter obviously is more important than the first because of the pressure and gravity of those last 15 minutes. In the pivotal fourth quarter on Sunday, Cutler completed 10 of 15 passes (very good), including a bad drop by Marquess Wilson but also helped by spectacular grabs by Wilson and Martellus Bennett. For the quarter, zero touchdown passes vs. the interception that was a disturbing flashback to Cutler’s bad fundamentals under pressure: off the back foot, late, to a spot where a defender had as good or better chance at catching the ball than his receiver.
The fourth-quarter passer rating, with the game on the line, was 49.6.
More comes into the critique than just a stat. Cutler also took a sack on the first second-and-4 at the 2-minute warning; certainly dramatically better than forcing a throw, but getting rid of the ball with a throwaway would have stopped the clock instead of squandering the 26 seconds that the sack did.
Cutler completed five of eight passes on the final drive. Workable, but the bar is higher in that spot; being better than Jimmy Clausen is not the same thing as being on par with Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers or Drew Brees. And the Oakland defense will not draw comparisons with any of the better units that matter.
One other concern, shared with CSN colleague Kip Lewis at the time, were the aberrant passes to no one in the second half. Kip, a former Division I receiver himself, suspected that the hamstring might have been affecting Cutler’s delivery, which would be understandable. A quarterback with a problem in either the push-off or the landing leg can have the throwing motion affected.
Those are the performance specifics.
More important, given the magnitude of the moment, what Cutler did on Sunday was perform like a leader, a team captain (which he is) who grabs the flag and says “follow me” at the precise moment when an outcome is hanging in the balance, and a Bears’ moment was in the balance on Sunday, given Fox’s way of looking at seasons in terms of quarters.
The Bears desperately needed a victory to finish a very difficult quarter of the season and heading into the second. Cutler’s physical toughness never should never have been questioned, including not after the 2010 NFC playoff loss. When Olin Kreutz tells me afterwards that Cutler was standing in the huddle and the quarterback’s leg was shaking, that settles any knee-injury question.
The Bears got a lot of what they needed from Cutler.
Particularly in those final 15 minutes on which games turn, they need more.
The “C-“ stands.