It was almost impossible to recognize this Jay Cutler, this mistake-free machine, this controlled burn of a passer.
He was doing Sunday all the things a responsible NFL quarterback does on Sundays. He had completed each of the eight passes he had attempted. He had run the Bears’ offense with a diamond cutter’s precision. When he couldn’t find a receiver, he had tucked the ball under his arm and run for good yardage.
And how many of you were buying it? How many of you were buying this new man? Give me your gullible, your naïve, your huddled innocents yearning to see Jay succeed.
On his ninth pass of the first half Sunday, he aimed for Martellus Bennett’s hands and found Tony Jefferson’s belly button. Jefferson plays for the other team, the Arizona Cardinals, which is why Cutler found himself trying to make a tackle on the interceptor.
He got hurt on the play, and Jefferson scored on a 26-yard pick-six. It was similar to a turn of events against San Diego in 2011, when Cutler threw an interception, then broke his thumb trying to make a tackle.
Share Events on The CubeThe Bears say he has a pulled hamstring, which, given their track record on honesty and injuries under coach John Fox, could mean anything from a dislocated shoulder to they lost him on the operating-room table.
There was no word from the Bears on how long Cutler could be out.
“It takes a while to run tests,’’ Fox said. “Our medical people will inform me, and then I’ll inform you, but at this point, he’s got a pulled hamstring.’’
Arizona won 48-23, which is a blowout by almost any standard. But the Bears were trading blows and touchdowns with the Cardinals right up until Cutler threw that interception late in the second quarter. To that point, were you buying what he had been selling? And if you were, why?
No matter what every new Bears offensive coordinator says, there absolutely is such a thing as the Same Old Jay. He was on display again Sunday at Soldier Field. Chicago actually does want to see him succeed and, at least at the beginning of each season, has given him a chance.
But he just can’t help himself. He’s the heart that can’t stop itself from beating irregularly. There is no surgery that can make him better. Whether the interception was his fault or Bennett’s doesn’t really matter. This is Cutler, and it’s going to happen sooner or later. Whether he should have been trying to tackle Jefferson or not is moot, as well. He did, he got hurt and he was gone for the rest of the game.
There was huge dropoff from Cutler’s performance to his replacement’s performance. No surprise there. Cutler has more ability than Jimmy Clausen, and Clausen hasn’t played much. There was never an indication the Bears were going to score a touchdown Sunday with the former Notre Dame quarterback under center. And there is no indication he’ll get them into the end zone next week in Seattle if Cutler can’t play.
(To the steadfast Cutler supporters out there: Please do not email me to say Clausen is what the Cutler critics deserve. Saying Clausen is bad does not make Cutler’s repetitive mistakes any less maddening.)
This is where the Bears are: They might not like Cutler, they might have tried like crazy to trade him in the offseason, but they really need him in 2015. Without a veteran starter like Cutler at quarterback, this could go downhill quickly. All the way to the first overall pick in next year’s draft? This is what an 0-2 start and an injured quarterback does to the mind.
After the game, Fox pointed out that he has been in worse situations. He was an assistant coach in San Diego in 1992 when the Chargers won 11 of 12 games after starting 0-4.
“It’s not a prediction,’’ he said. “We’ll find guys that want to do it, can do it.’’
They might not be on the roster. The defensive line couldn’t get any pressure on Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer, who threw four touchdowns. The defensive backfield struggled for the second week in a row. And the Bears had 14 penalties for 170 yards.
Fox wants to run the ball to take advantage of Matt Forte’s skill and to keep the game close. Arizona wanted to stop the run and wait for Cutler to make a mistake. It’s what teams had done the past six seasons (and did last week, for that matter). It’s what the Cardinals did Sunday.
Next week in Seattle? It could be ugly, Cutler or no Cutler.