Jay Cutler not focused on the future: ‘Whatever happens, happens’

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Bears quarterback Jay Cutler on coach John Fox: “There’s never been any strain in our relationship. We’re both very open and honest, and we’re on the same page. We just want to win football games.”
(Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times)

Looking refreshed and casually dressed in a t-shirt, jeans and camo baseball cap following a post-practice shower, Jay Cutler opened his first press conference in six weeks with a joke — “missed you guys” — and acknowledged the reality of his past, present and future upon his return from a sprained thumb that has forced him to miss the Bears’ last five games. It was another reminder of just how far the 33-year-old Cutler has come since he arrived in 2009.

So it was no surprise that Cutler didn’t bristle when asked about coach John Fox’s assertion two weeks ago that Cutler could lose the starting job if Brian Hoyer maintained the hot hand.

“It is what it is,” Cutler said. “To Brian’s credit, he played well. As a team, we wish we could have won some more of those games. But Brian did a great job. My discussions with everybody that I have relationships with in here were positive, and whenever I was ready to go, I’d be ready to go. There was never any discussion regarding that with me.”

If Hoyer’s difficulties against the Jaguars and Packers didn’t settle that matter, the broken arm he suffered in the second quarter against the Packers certainly did. Fox insisted this week the job was Cutler’s all along, but the question still had to be asked Tuesday: Does Cutler feel like he has Fox’s support?

“Ummm … he doesn’t have a choice, I guess, at this point,” Cutler said. “Brian’s out, so I’ve got to go. I’ve had good conversations with Foxy this week, last week, the week before. There’s never been any strain in our relationship. We’re both very open and honest, and we’re on the same page. We just want to win football games.”

Spoken like a true team captain. But as much as Cutler has changed over the years, his luck has not. When Cutler starts as expected against the Vikings next Monday night at Soldier Field, the Bears are in an all-too-typical predicament — they’re 1-6, facing the best defense in the NFL, with Kevin White on injured reserve, Eddie Royal injured again and the offensive line missing its two best players.

“Yeah, could have picked a different game to come back, huh?” Cutler said.

It’s almost uncanny how fate seems to conspire against Cutler. When he started the first two games this season, the offensive line was still getting to know each other, with guard Josh Sitton having just arrived in Week 1. While Cutler was out, the line solidified, protection for Brian Hoyer was excellent and the running game fluourished. If the Bears could gain 522 yards with Hoyer, there was no telling what they could do with Cutler.

But now that Cutler’s back, Sitton and guard Kyle Long are recovering from injuries — Eric Kush and Ted Larsen replaced them against the Packers — and the running game is in a holding pattern after averaging 3.4 yards per rush in a 26-10 loss to the Packers last Thursday night at Lambeau Field.

Now Cutler is in a familiar position, one that has been difficult for him to navigate throughout his eight seasons with the Bears — rising above the muck of difficult circumstances to carry, or at least propel, his team back to relevance.

“It’s how it goes,” Cutler said. “We’ve got a bye week after this, so hopefully we’ll get those two guys back. Kush played well. Ted [Larsen] has played a lot of football. The good thing about it is we have had a lot of different guys in there through camp and during games and stuff. We shouldn’t miss a beat with those guys.”

The other option is for the Bears to rally around their starting quarterback. “We had him in the huddle the other day and everybody was excited to have him back,” wide receiver Cam Meredith said. “I know he’s excited to be back out there. He’s got a swagger about himself. He brings confidence to the huddle. He knows what he’s going out there. He gets us on [the same] page. He’s a general out there. So we’re looking forward to it.”

As Cutler noted, after the Vikings (5-1) and the bye week, the Bears’ schedule becomes a little more manageable — road games against the Buccaneers (3-3) and Giants (4-3), followed by home games against the Titans (3-4) and 49ers (1-6).

Cutler’s future with the Bears is in the balance. But he is focused only on the present. He sounded like a guy who knows he’ll have a job somewhere next season. And barring a revelatory second half, somewhere else might end up being the best for both parties.

“I think those conversations are for the end of the year,” he said when asked about his standing within the organization. “Right now I’m working with Dowell [offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains] and Rags [quarterbacks coach Dave Ragone] and we’re just trying to find first downs and get our third-down conversion rate back up [and] score more points. That’s all my focus is.

“Whatever happens at the end of the year, it’s supposed to happen and we’ll go accordingly. But right now it’s not something I worry about. It’s my 11th year [in the NFL], my eighth year here. I’ve seen a lot of ups and downs, and it’s how it goes. And the end of the year we can have those conversations. Whatever happens, happens.”

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