Chicago-ing: The Curious Case of Jay Cutler - Rolling Stone
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Chicago-ing: The Curious Case of Jay Cutler

After another loss, and with frustrations high, can Cutler and the Bears make it work?

Jay Cutler on the sidelines against the Miami Dolphins in Chicago, Illinois on October 19th, 2014.

Jay Cutler on the sidelines against the Miami Dolphins in Chicago, Illinois on October 19th, 2014.

Nam Y. Huh

I got to the Chicago Bears game on Sunday the same way that fans have been getting to Soldier Field for years, taking the Red Line to Roosevelt then walking through Museum Campus. It didn’t take much besides a Bears jersey (available in navy, white and, uh, orange) to blend in with the crowd – especially since today’s opponent hailed from the sunny beaches of Miami – though a healthy mistrust of quarterback Jay Cutler also seemed like a requirement.

Of course, four hours later, I stood out like Cutler’s sore thumb (2011 vintage). Because unlike most Bears fans, I actually stayed until the game was over.

Sometimes the only way to exorcise a demon is to transfer it to somebody else. Leave the curse for them and live with the guilt of knowing you saved yourself. The Miami Dolphins did just that on Sunday, blasting Bears 27-14, then leaving their locker-room demons behind as a parting gift.

By now, you are no doubt aware of the postgame Sturm und Drang surrounding Bears receiver Brandon Marshall and Cutler – with the temperamental wideout reportedly chastizing the scowling signal caller after a game in which he threw another interception and lost a fumble. The defeat left Chicago in several holes of varying depth: They are 3-4, in third place in the NFC North and, most notably, 0-3 at home.

After the game, Marshall backtracked slightly, calling Cutler “our guy” and a “leader,” but he didn’t mention him when talking about the team’s core of “great players” – that honor was reserved for Alshon Jeffery, Martellus Bennett and Matt Forte – which is telling. All four of the Bears’ losses this year have come when Cutler committed multiple turnovers, and while it would be wrong to pin the sluggish start entirely on his slumped shoulders, it does raise an interesting point: Perhaps Jay is just the wrong quarterback for Marc Trestman’s team.

Despite posting career-highs in completion percentage and passer rating, and on pace for 32 touchdown passes – which would be a franchise record – Cutler is still performing worse than Josh McCown did as his replacement last season. Cutler is a better quarterback than McCown, but he’s not better for Chicago.

Cutler’s got the arm and the gunslinger mentality that comes along with it, but the Bears don’t need a quarterback that can make amazing throws: they have two of the best wide receivers in the NFL, an excellent tight end and, in the durable, talented Forte – currently leading the league in receptions with 52 – one of the most versatile backs in football. In short, they need a game manager, not a gambler.

Forte has accounted for almost 30 percent of Cutler’s completions this season, though on Sunday, Cutler missed him by a mile on one attempt, causing a fumble that his back managed to barely jump on in time. You could argue that the Bears’ reliance on short-to-medium passes is designed to open up the deep game – where a “gunslinger” earns his stripes – but that’s not exactly working out, either

Cutler is just 9-of-25 on deep passes this season, and Pro Football Focus rates him as the 18th-most accurate deep passer (throws of 20-or-more yards downfield) in the NFL this year. If he’s a gunslinger then Brian Hoyer is a weapon of mass destruction.

And Cutler’s inconsistency, inaccuracy and ineptitude is causing friction in the locker room, because he can’t lead consistent drives that end in points instead of turnovers. Even in Week 2, when Chicago upset the 49ers 28-20 and Cutler had four touchdowns, all he really had to do was get the ball somewhere in the vicinity of Marshall, who was being covered by rookie Jimmie Ward. Marshall ended up with three TDs in the game, one of the fairly remarkable variety.

But that was all the way back in September. On Sunday, with Chicago down 27-14 in the fourth, the 61,000 at Solider Field had already begun a mass exodus. They weren’t as surly as they had been hours earlier, when they booed the Bears into the locker room after an uninspired first-half of football, but the frustration was still palpable. After all, they paid some of the highest ticket prices in the NFL to watch a team that’s made one playoff appearance in the last seven years.

And it doesn’t appear that the Bears are any closer to figuring things out. Perhaps the locker-room incident – or guard Kyle Long’s postgame comments – can galvanize this team, and maybe Chicago’s improved (though still middling against both the run and the pass) defense will step up, but you get the feeling that a lot of this once again falls to their quarterback. He should be the one rallying the troops, though it’s a task that’s seemingly been left to his receiver. Over the course of his nine-year career, Cutler’s never been the vocal sort, and perhaps he never will be. The Bears have made a long-term commitment to Cutler, but all evidence suggests he’s not the right quarterback for this team.

They don’t need a gunslinger, they need a sheriff.

Five Quick Qs

Will the Seahawks regret trading Percy Harvin?
No. Sunday’s loss to the Rams had little to do with the absence of Harvin, traded to the Jets last week for generally being an awful dude. Russell Wilson’s 419 total yards and three touchdowns exemplifies that they still have a franchise quarterback in place and that he may be better off without Harvin punching his teammates.

The Seahawks were playing without several key players, including Bobby Wagner and Zach Miller, and, well, let’s just say the Rams had to pull out all the stops to win this one. Seattle could actually be 5-1 right now, and they’ve played one of the toughest schedules in the league to date. Seattle could turn this around quick and make the playoffs without Harvin, just like they did in 2013.

Will DeMarco Murray rush for 2,000 yards?
No. In fact, “2,000 yards” could become as extinct as “batting .400,” as teams continue to move away from single-back, run-heavy systems. Even though the Cowboys are currently doing that with Murray –who has rushed for 100 or more yards in a record seven straight games to start the season – he’s already lugged the ball 187 times this year, well on pace to shatter his previous career-high of 217, and his head of steam could become a puddle of exhaustion by December.

Is Andrew Luck “Elite?”
This one again. Luck’s on his way, and after putting up a dominant performance against the Bengals on Sunday, he may actually be the quarterback most people said he was (but wasn’t) over his first two seasons.

In five of seven games this year, Luck has posted a QB rating higher than the 87 he finished with in 2013. He leads the NFL in yards and touchdowns and has now led Indy to five straight wins after an 0-2 start. But to actually become elite, he needs to finish elite. I’ll refrain from judgment until we see the finished product.

Is Luck the MVP of the season so far?
No. He’s still behind Aaron Rodgers and Peyton Manning, and he’s only slightly ahead of Philip Rivers, Tony Romo, or maybe even Murray. The MVP right now is Rodgers, the first player in NFL history to throw at least 15 touchdowns and one or fewer interceptions through his team’s first seven games. And his supporting cast isn’t quite as great as they look either; he’s doing a lot to make them look great.

Who is the Super Bowl favorite?
How about the Denver Broncos? Every other team has shown many more flaws than Denver, who, as you are probably aware, have a great passing offense and a very good pass defense, not to mention a soft schedule that should ease them into the number one seed again this year.

This week’s game against the San Diego Chargers is crucial however; the Broncos play six of their next eight games on the road, and if they lose to the Chargers at home, the race for the AFC’s number one seed will be wide open. Giddy-up.

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