Jay Cutler came up short. Again.
A late rally that straddled the line between garbage-time production and a real comeback ended when his pass in the end zone was intercepted by Cowboys cornerback Orlando Scandrick with 1:29 left to play Thursday night — sealing a 41-28 loss that all but ended the Bears playoff hopes.
Barring a major miracle, this will be the eight time in nine NFL seasons that Cutler will have missed the playoffs. Four times he’s come up a game short.
The disappointments are adding up. Where does this one rank?
“It’s got to be high,” Cutler said, before the reality of the Bears’ 5-8 season seemed to sink in. “It’s got to be No. 1. The expectations coming into this one were extremely high. Since the first game [a 23-20 overtime loss to the Bills at home] we haven’t done a good enough job week-in and week-out. It adds up.
“That being said, we can’t cash it in. We’ve got to still continue to build on this and find ways to get better each week.”
The latest loss was a continuation of the frustration and futility the Bears have endured in Marc Trestman’s second season. Coming in with the idea of re-establishing a commitment to the running game and a balanced offense, it didn’t take long for the Bears to find themselves in the same old spot.
Matt Forte gained two yards on the Bears’ first offensive play on the game, but was stopped in the backfield for losses on two of his next three carries. Next thing you know, Forte has five yards on six carries in the first half, the Bears are down 14-7 and the whole game plan falls apart in the third quarter as the Cowboys outscore the Bears 21-0 to take a 35-7 lead into the fourth quarter.
It was yet another low-point for the Bears — a rock-bottom that made regime change a sure-fire hot topic this week. And it’s doubtful that the 21-point fourth quarter that Cutler engineered to get the Bears close to being close did anything to change that.
But, for what it’s worth, a composed Cutler expressed confidence in the direction the team and the offense is headed under Marc Trestman.
“I do. I do,” Cutler said. “We’ve got a lot of younger guys that are still trying to learn how to play football in this league. We have to help them out. I like our schemes. I like our coaches. We’ve just got to find a way to execute better.”
We know by now it’s going to take more than Jay Cutler to get the Bears over whatever it is that ails them. Cutler was typically Cutler against the Cowboys — putting up numbers but never really leading the Bears to anything or anywhere. He doesn’t force the issue. He takes what the defense gives him, and it’s rarely enough to make a difference.
In a first half that was typically unfulfilling on offense — the Bars gained 104 net yards and just four yards on seven carries on the ground, Cutler had a 123.9 passer rating — he was 10-of-13 for 100 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions.
He finished 32-of-46 for 341 yards, two touchdowns and even with the one interception had a 96.4 rating. But it wasn’t enough and now the Bears are all but playing out the string.
Coaches and players alike never want to be in this situation,” Cutler said. “You want to be in a situation where you’re playing for the playoffs. Unfortunately throughout the year we’ve done some things to not give ourselves a chance. We’re upset about that and rightfully so.
“It doesn’t take away from the fact that we’ve got three games left and we’v got to play hard.”
What does the offense have to do to salvage something for this season?
“We have to play like we did in the middle of the third quarter on,” Cutler said. “We’ve got to play up-tempo. We’ve got to have some energy out there. We’ve got to have guys making plays. We’ve got to do all those things — [eliminate] the penalties.
“The guys in that locker room, we know we haven’t lived up to expectations. We’ve got a chance the next three games — we’re obviously not going to fix the season by any means. But we can end on a better note.”