Before he trudged off the field following his first interception of the season Sunday, Jay Cutler lowered his head in disgust and pointed to where Kevin White was supposed to be. With the index finger of right hand, the quarterback gestured toward the right sideline, throwing a invisible Frisbee.
It was captured by cameras, of course, as was a piercing glance on the sideline. Two days later, though, coach John Fox said his quarterback was not trying to show up his receiver, who sat down in a zone rather than run into the right flat.
“I can’t expect people not to show emotion,” Fox said Tuesday. “I don’t think any of that’s intentional. They’re just all competitors. They want good things to happen and when bad things happen, there’s probably an element of frustration with a lot of people.”
Four years ago, Cutler let that frustration turn him into a petulant child. Remember when he shoved tackle J’Marcus Webb in 2012? Or when he iced out Devin Hester when the returner struggled to grasp the intricacies of his routes as a receiver? Once he went to the Falcons, Hester said that if the two weren’t on the same page, Cutler didn’t talk to him about it; he merely didn’t throw him the ball.
This isn’t the same quarterback, though. The Bears are Cutler’s team now — it belonged to defensive veterans then — and he’s years removed from childish sideline antics.
He has the leverage of being correct. In White’s first-ever NFL game — following a West Virginia career running a simplified route tree and a year spent recovering from shin surgery — Cutler was administering some tough love.
“I mean, I’ve seen that look a lot, especially as a younger player,” Eddie Royal, who played with Cutler as a Broncos rookie in 2008, said with a laugh. “It’s just how the game goes. And that’s just something that happens with every quarterback and receiver. It goes back and forth and that’s what you want. It’s a family.
“Sometimes the communication isn’t there — whatever it was on that play that didn’t happen. You just learn from it. You talk about it and you learn from it.”
Fox saw it that way, too, not as an affront to the Bears’ No. 7 overall pick, their highest selection in a decade.
“I’m kind of glad you didn’t see my reaction after that play,” Fox said.
Video from Sunday’s loss — of the route, not the quarterback’s reaction — “is a great teaching tool” for White and others, Fox said.
“I think it kind of slows things down, and hopefully they learn from both on a positive note and a thing they can get better from,” Fox said. “This league’s not about not making mistakes, because you make mistakes. You’re not ever 100 percent. But not making the same ones is key.”
Of course, White’s already done that. His imprecise route in the third exhibition game led to an incompletion. Cutler said then that he spoke with him on the sideline and just told him, ‘This is going to happen, and now you know — and now it can’t happen again.’”
What the Bears do now could define White’s early career. The team can’t afford for him to stop trusting White, no matter the mistake. But what if it’s human nature?
Asked what his sideline conversation with Cutler was like Sunday, White merely said that the Bears had to “watch it on film” and “get better.” He showed little interest in elaborating.
White said the hamstring injury that kept him limited in two practices was fine Sunday, but Fox admitted that “he’s been held back some” because of it.
“I think time heals,” Fox said. “And I think you’ll just see him get better and better.”
If he doesn’t, expect more gesticulating from Cutler.
He’ll have every right to.