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Bears’ offense follows Jay Cutler’s lead again — to nowhere

Jay Cutler completed 16-of-30 passes for 182 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions for a 55.1 passer rating in the Bears' 36-10 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. | Joe Robbins/Getty Images

TAMPA, Fla. — Jay Cutler still had a better week than most of America, but this was not his day.

“I think our whole team was off today,” Bears coach John Fox said after the Bears’ demoralizing, mystifying and possibly destabilizing 36-10 loss to the Buccaneers on Sunday at Raymond James Stadium. “I don’t think you can put it on one guy. We just weren’t as consistent as we were a week ago.”

Fox has bigger issues than picking his team up off the mat if he thinks Jay Cutler is one-eleventh of his offense’s problems. The Bears should expect more from their quarterback and somewhere at Halas Hall, someone has to be disappointed that Cutler didn’t rise above the muck and carry more than his share of the load in the latest discouraging loss of the Fox/Ryan Pace era. But Fox doesn’t see Cutler as a trump card.

“I think that falls on all of us,” Fox said.

Coming off a bye week following an impressive performance against the Vikings and with an offense virtually at full strength with guards Josh Sitton and Kyle Long and wide receiver Eddie Royal back from injuries, Cutler was expected to be even sharper and more productive in his second game back from a sprained thumb.

Instead he was worse. Cutler threw two interceptions, including one that former Bears safety Chris Conte returned 20 yards for an interception that gave the Buccaneers a 7-0 lead in the first quarter. He lost two fumbles, one that gave the Bucs a safety. He completed 16-of-30 passes for 182 yards, one touchdown and a 55.1 rating — his worst passer rating in a complete game since 2012 against the Packers (28.1), when he threw four picks in a 23-10 loss. And if not for a fluky 50-yard touchdown pass to Cameron Meredith on a Hail Mary at the end of the first half, Cutler’s passer rating would have been 35.4.

Against a Buccaneers defense that had allowed 19 plays of 20 or more yards in its previous two games, the Bears had one — the Hail Mary.

“We didn’t play well,” Cutler said. “I didn’t play well. Too many turnovers. You have that many turnovers (four), it’s going to be hard to win.”

Not every miscue that doomed the Bears against the Bucs was Cutler’s fault. Alshon Jeffery took the blame for a first-quarter interception by cornerback Brent Grimes on an in-cutting route (“I’ve got to do a better job of breaking across his face.”) Poor protection caused Cutler to get blindsided on the sacks that caused fumbles that led to a turnover and a safety. And injuries to Long and right tackle Bobby Massie in the first half did not help matters.

But Cutler was more than just a victim of bad breaks. Even for Bad Jay, he was unusually off his game — sailing passes well out of the reach of his receivers, not even giving them a chance to make a play. Jeffery saved him from an interception by deflecting a pass in the end zone that hit safety Keith Tandy in the back and nearly was picked off by Vernon Hargreaves.

“They didn’t do anything we didn’t expect,” Cutler said. “They kind of ran their defense and when the score got out of hand, they were able to zone us out. We didn’t force them into doing much.”

That was one of several all-too-familiar laments that marked yet another Cutler disappointment. “We’re on the same page. I hope it doesn’t happen again,” he said of Jeffery, when asked about Grimes’ interception.

On Conte’s pick-6, Cutler was pressured by linebacker Daryl Smith and tried to quickly finesse a pass to tight end Logan Paulsen. But it hung in the air for Conte to pick him clean.

“They came off the edge and we ran a keeper back into it,” Cutler said. “I just got to put it outside Logan or dirt it. I just left it inside and Chris made a heckuva play.”

He did, but it also was a mistake Cutler should be avoiding in his 11th year in the league and eighth with the Bears. And it’s a big reason why Cutler is unlikely to get a ninth. When the Bears seemingly had everything in their favor, an old bugaboo cropped up again — with Jay Cutler, there’s always something.