To admit to some envy over Carson Wentz is to beg for abuse, seeing as how he has played exactly one NFL game. It could easily be equated with the frothing of the typical radio talk-show caller.
But for some of us who pay attention to the Bears, it’s not what Wentz has done for the Eagles that is so enticing but what he might do. He sells possibility. It’s a come-hither look that no NFL general manager, coach or fan can ignore.
Wherever you fall on the still-raging Jay Cutler debate – whether you think he’s a talented, misunderstood quarterback or an exasperating, mediocre one – you have to admit that there isn’t much intrigue left. You know what he is. You either think his inherent Jayness is enough or you think there should be a lot more. But in his 11th season in the league, he’s not going to turn into somebody else.
The Bears and the Eagles meet Monday night at Soldier Field, and we’ll get a close look at what is (Cutler) and what might be (Wentz). All I know is that I miss the sense that sustained excellence is feasible in Chicago.
Wentz very well could turn into another shooting star, here one moment and sitting next to Cade McNown and Ryan Leaf the next. But a week after he completed 22-of-37 passes for 278 yards and two touchdowns in his NFL debut, hope is soaring in Philadelphia. Qualifier: It was against the Browns. That might be the biggest qualifier in league history. It was a bad team with a bad history and a future that looks, well, you know, bad.
Ron Jaworski gushed on ESPN’s “Pardon the Interruption’’ that it was the best debut by a rookie quarterback ever. Jaws, a former Eagle, might have been snorting powdered green Kool-Aid at the time, but you get the idea. People are excited about the rookie from North Dakota State.
Jaworski also said this on a Philly radio station last week:
“Cutler doesn’t worry me at all. He’s so frenetic and undisciplined. You know, he’ll make enough mistakes that the Eagles will find a way to win this game. But he does have some outstanding wide receivers that will certainly put some pressure on the Eagles’ secondary.’’
You’d have to go back to Cutler’s first season in Chicago to duplicate the excitement that Wentz has stirred up in Philadelphia. Remember? In 2009, the Bears acquired Cutler and a fifth-round pick from the Broncos in exchange for Kyle Orton, two first-round picks and a third-round pick. The Bears finally had their franchise quarterback, we were told. Even before he arrived at training camp, the team started referring to him as “No. 6’’ in conversation, as if what he had accomplished and what he would accomplish was such that only a uniform number was necessary to identify him.
It didn’t take long for two camps to be established in town. One fell in love with Cutler’s physical gifts and thought all the struggles he had were due to poor coaching and a lack of talented teammates. The other side saw his maddening inconsistency and his churlishness, and wanted his number changed to 666.
And here we are, eight years later, having the same conversation about the guy. That brings us back to Wentz, the breeze to Cutler’s closed-up room. It’d be nice to feel that sense of hope again, to wonder if the quarterback the team has put on the field just might be The One.
Clearly, we have no idea about Wentz. The jury isn’t out on him; the jury hasn’t even been chosen yet. He has the physical ability to do the job, which is why the Eagles used the second pick overall on a kid from a lesser-known program. He can run, and he has a big arm.
That describes the Bears’ quarterback, too, which means descriptions tell only part of a story.
When it’s all over, Cutler might end up being 10 times the player his rookie counterpart became. But for now, there’s a certain wistfulness to Cutler’s career. About what it was supposed to be and what it ended up being – whether you think that’s his fault or not.
There’s enthusiasm for Wentz that can’t be there for Cutler anymore. When a rookie starts his team’s season opener and walks away with a 101.0 passer rating, it tends to get the fan base excited.
It might be false hope, it might be a mirage, but what’s better than the sweet scent of possibility?