Surprise, surprise – Jay Cutler blew it again on Sunday. Screwed the pooch. Ruined yet another autumn afternoon for a whole lot of Chicago Bears fans.
Cutler, the most overpaid quarterback in the NFL and the most harshly criticized sports star in the Windy City, reached deep into the fetid gut of defeat and – whoa, seriously? – pulled out an 18-17 victory in Kansas City. And he had to play his ass off to do it, throwing two touchdown passes in the final three minutes to carry the Bears to their second consecutive comeback victory. What the hell was he thinking?
It’s almost as if Cutler doesn’t realize – or care – that Bears fans are banking on him and his injury-ravaged, supposed-to-suck-even-at-full-strength team to fail this season, so the franchise can draft a real star quarterback in the spring.
But then, Cutler has been accused of not caring before, hasn’t he? His default facial expression – a smirk that would make even the frattiest frat boy envious – projects to the world an undeniable sense of too-cool-to-care. Of course, everyone remembers the 21-14 loss to the hated Green Bay Packers in the 2010 NFC Championship game, during which he spent nearly the entire second half standing on the Bears’ sideline with an undisclosed injury. Long before it became known that Cutler had sustained a real-deal knee injury, even fellow NFL players were destroying him on Twitter for being a quitter; @JayCutlersHeart was one of several mock accounts to instantly bubble up.
Here’s a 10-year veteran and seventh-year Bear who has been to the playoffs only once and yet, following the 2013 season, scored one of the richest contracts in the game, a seven-year, $126.7 million bonanza that included $54 million guaranteed. Who’s going to love the guy? But the loathing and derision are off the charts.
Cue ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith, a loudmouth by anyone’s standard, but still – did he ever lay into Cutler over the summer, calling him “one of the worst people” in the league on an episode of First Take.
“When you can play and when everyone is depending on you and you take the money and you still don’t care, you are pathetic. You are a loser,” Smith woofed. “That is what Jay Cutler is. That’s right, I said it. He’s horrible.”
All the usual hot-takers were hot-taking along those same lines after Cutler’s first-quarter fumble Sunday was recovered by the Chiefs’ Ramik Wilson in the end zone for a touchdown. Forget that Cutler – standing behind a patchwork offensive line – was almost instantly leveled by two pass rushers, left with no chance to bail out on the play: He dropped the ball as he often has done, usually metaphorically.
Here’s what else he did: Run for his life for three hours. Hang in there on a seemingly hopeless afternoon. Drive the team a total of 155 yards on its final two possessions and make two spectacular throws for touchdowns, the first to Marquess Wilson and the second to Matt Forte. Without starting wide receivers Alshon Jeffery and Eddie Royal, Cutler coached up Wilson – who entered the game with 28 career catches – and former undrafted free agents Josh Bellamy and Cameron Meredith. Afterward, he deflected the credit.
“I trust the guys around me,” Cutler said. “I know all I’ve got to do is get the ball out to them and they’ll do most of the hard work.”
That’ll play well in any locker room. Yet Cutler seems to have no chance to win over his critics, especially those who root for the Bears. When Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins threw an overtime pick-six to lose to the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday, ESPN’s Michael Wilbon, a native Chicagoan, tweeted that Cousins “has a little Jay Cutler in him.”
This was after Cutler came through mightily in the clutch at Arrowhead Stadium.
It’s hard to change a negative impression. I met Cutler in 2008, during his third and final season with the Denver Broncos, when I did a feature story on him for the erstwhile Sporting News magazine. This was before anyone was dumping on him, yet I arrived at the home of his business manager and – literally inside of two minutes – pegged Cutler as aloof and kind of unlikable. Frankly, it had a whole lot to do with that smirk. He also was cocky, infamously claiming to have a stronger arm than Broncos hero John Elway.
On the other hand, he was honest and forthcoming about his scary diabetes story. At the NFL combine in 2006, Cutler had benched 225 pounds 23 times, a huge number for a quarterback. In 2007, he suffered through a season during which he lost 35 pounds and eventually could bench that same weight a scant three times. He didn’t know he was sick. Teammates whispered that Cutler secretly had a partying problem. The team’s medical staff let him down.
“I was always tired,” he told me. “My mouth was always dry. I didn’t really want to play football. I didn’t really want to go out there.”
An undiagnosed Type 1 diabetic made it through all 16 games that season, throwing for 3,497 yards and 20 touchdowns.
Jay Cutler is no quitter. His personality may be off-putting, even if some of it probably is just shyness or, if you prefer, social awkwardness. He’s cocky, which won’t ever play well if he doesn’t back it up. But he’s one tough, determined sonofabitch – and the Chiefs just learned it the hard way.
Longtime Bears kicker Robbie Gould booted a third-quarter field goal Sunday to become the franchise’s career scoring leader. Not surprisingly, Gould is one of the most popular Bears among fans. Meanwhile, Cutler is three touchdown passes from overtaking Sid Luckman for the most in franchise history. When he gets there – perhaps this coming Sunday at Detroit – it’s a given that many will mark the occasion with sarcasm, irony and backhanded praise.
Cutler won’t be able to help hearing some of that, just as he can’t possibly tune out all of the other crap that’s said about him. One wonders how much he truly cares about the endless criticism. Perhaps it’s best for all involved if he just doesn’t give a damn at all.