Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2010
Posted: 11:18 a.m.
By John Mullin
With one more Bears win, Jay Cutler will have achieved his first winning season as a starting quarterback since high school, which means he is certainly the best-paid losing quarterback in quite some NFL time. It is also about time.
And the question now begins to creep in as to how he will handle the moment.
The Denver Broncos were 2-0 and then 5-5 in 2007 behind Cutler, then dropped four of their next five (beginning with a loss in Chicago), two games with Cutler posting sub-50 passer ratings. The Broncos finished 7-9.
The 2008 Broncos were 4-1 and lost their next three with Cutler failing to put up a passer rating higher than 78. After recovering to 8-5 they lost their final three, only one to a team with a winning record as Cutler logged three straight sub-75 passer ratings.
Last year the Bears were 3-1, then Cutler went 10 straight games without a 100 passer rating and ... well, enough on that painful point.
An early guess is that this year will be different.
But the pivotal difference in Cutler isn't Mike Martz or non-Ron Turner or his offensive line or any of that. Those are incidentals. Convenient incidentals excusing him from accountability. Important, but incidentals.
The difference is in Cutler's head. As of Game 11 last season Cutler had just thrown his third interception of the year to a defensive lineman, which may be some sort of NFL record for ... something. To suggest that the reason was Turner (what, he didn't coach Cutler not to throw to giant men in traffic?) or protection or scheme or anything else is beyond silly. The interception by San Francisco D-tackle Aubrayo Franklin was one of five Cutler threw during a game in which he was not sacked once.
Apart from superb individual throws and decisions (there were lots of them in November, which is why teams go 4-0), two particularly impressive aspects of Cutler's play these past four games vs. other stretches in his career:
He has thrown nine TD passes vs. three interceptions in this 4-0 streak (the first time he has ever won four NFL games in a row) despite defenses structured at times to either blitz him or take away the run game that has allowed him breathing room. As good as his play was to start last season, his ratio was 8:5. When the Bears were opening this season 3-0, Cutler's ratio was 6:2.
And in just one of the four November games did he put up a rating below 85 and that was in Miami (64.8), the one game in which he did not throw for a TD and also a night game, the games in which he has historically played his absolute worst.
Conclusion: Instead of his head and ego writing checks his arm (and receivers) can't cash, he has curbed his ego and is using his head. As difficult as the closing stretch of this season lays out to be, the Bears have rarely over the past two decades gone into December with a quarterback whose arrow has pointed this significantly up at this crucial time of year.
The Chicago Park District has re-sodded Soldier Field in the wake of the Philadelphia game, one of the several replacements done each year. Slipping and turf-chunking have become staples in certain seasons and the Bears and Eagles had their shares of slips Sunday.
Whether or not that costs the Bears some home-field advantage or not is debatable. The Bears play there on game days but practice either on the well-coiffed fields behind Halas Hall (one of which is heated) or inside the Walter Payton Center, which is artificial turf.
Devin Hester adjusted with a change to shoes with screw-in longer cleats and turned his return game and the Minnesota Vikings game around. For the New England Patriots and New York Jets, the only two teams with Soldier Field games upcoming, that's probably good news, given that both the Pats and Jets play on Field Turf in their home stadiums.
The final stretch of the Bears schedule is obviously upholstered with challenges but the Green Bay Packers don't have it especially easier. The combined record for Bears opponents is 31-24. Green Bay's opponents, including the Bears, are 30-25.
John "Moon" Mullin is CSNChicago.com's Bears Insider, and appears regularly on Bears Postgame Live and Chicago Tribune Live. Follow Moon on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bears information.