Let’s pretend that Jay Cutler, not Peyton Manning, was the Broncos’ starting quarterback for Super Bowl 50.
Would Denver still have won the game?
It’s an unanswerable question but a fun unanswerable question. It brings all of Cutler’s pros and cons to the fore: his powerful arm, his running ability and his nice 2015 season vs. his historically poor decision-making, his shaky throwing mechanics and his struggles in nationally televised games.
It’s not that outlandish a hypothetical. What if the Broncos had never traded him to the Bears in 2009?
Cutler’s biggest fans will look at what Manning did Sunday and say, “A blindfolded Jay could done better!’’ Manning was 13-of-23 for 141 yards and no touchdowns. He threw one interception and finished with a poor 56.6 passer rating.
I look at what Manning didn’t do. He didn’t force many passes. He realized Panthers quarterback Cam Newton couldn’t do a thing against the Broncos’ feral defense, and he scaled back his own game. That’s the kind assessment. The unkind assessment is that Manning, at 39, had nothing left in the tank and knew it.
But let’s be kind and say that Manning understood his limitations. Cutler has never thought he had limitations, and that has been both a blessing and a curse in his career. It’s impossible to see him content with playing the caretaker role in the biggest game of his career. It goes against everything he has ever known.
I see him throwing many more passes than Manning’s 23. I see him trying to throw passes into very small windows against a very good Panthers defense. I see the temptation being too much for him. I see two touchdown passes, two interceptions, a lost fumble and at least one great run to keep Carolina’s defense honest. Maybe a death stare or two aimed at a teammate.
I see the Broncos hanging on 24-23 and his own defense wanting to kill him.
In my land of make believe, Cutler is still Cutler.