Jay Cutler is leading the NFL in fourth-quarter passing. He has a passer rating of 132.0 through seven games and his performance last Sunday 12-of-14 passing, TD was the 13th comeback win of Cutlers career, sixth as a Bear.
It is a crucial stat but possibly a little misleading.
What it suggests is that Cutler, whose fourth-quarter rating last year was 60.5 with two TD passes vs. five interceptions, is becoming better under pressure. That is not universally considered a strength of his.
"He's one of those guys that can get shook quick, said Carolina Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy told CSNChicago.com after Sundays game. We wanted to get him out of his comfort zone."
Which the Panthers did for three quarters.
The key is less what the rest of the NFL thinks, however, and more what his own huddle thinks in fourth quarters with games at stake.
A couple of weeks ago I was trying to figure out a nickname, said wide receiver Brandon Marshall. I texted him over a few nicknames, like The Closer and Ace. Jay is one of those guys where he has that clutch gene. You hear guys talking about it and some believe it, some dont, but Jay has it.
Maybe. But Cutler has six comeback wins in 48 games as a Chicago Bear. New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning had eight last year.
Cutler has been helped by the fact that the Bears have trailed in only two fourth quarters this season: Carolina and at Green Bay, where they lost. The Bears defense has held opponent scoring down and Cutler has had the advantage of rarely being in must-throw situations in the final 15 minutes, meaning that opposing defenses are typically gearing to play the run.
No. 2 Peyton Manning averages nine fourth-quarter passes per game. No. 3 Aaron Rodgers averages 9.5. No. 4 Andy Dalton averages 9.4.
Cutler averages 6.6 fourth-quarter passes per game.
But Cutler has not always been good under game pressure so the improvement from last years 60.5, which was 39th among qualifying quarterbacks, is important.
I think this team, weve talked about it being a young offense and now were kind of coming together, Cutler said. It takes us a little bit longer to make adjustments in games and get everything straightened out.