The one overt sign of unity on the Bears this season is their commitment to “Bunker Down” and “No Noise” — they have the t-shirts to prove it — and insulating themselves from the arrows of criticism being flung more viciously than ever at Halas Hall this week.
But this season has spun so far out of control, you can only do so much.
“You can definitely feel the pressure,” quarterback Jay Cutler said Thursday at his weekly press conference at Halas Hall. “We have to get better. I have to get better. That’s kind of the focus right now — finding every little thing that I can get better at to try to win a ballgame.”
How Cutler responds to that pressure could determine just how quickly he and the Bears can climb out of the hole they’ve dug for themselves with five losses in the past six games to fall to 3-6 and all but out of playoff contention. Or if they can dig out at all.
The Bears’ defensive collapse in consecutive losses to the Dolphins (27-14), Patriots (51-23) and Packers (55-14) has been so drastic that Cutler’s culpability has been deflected to a contributing factor.
But it can’t be ignored. In the first half of the past three games, Cutler has been out-dueled by Ryan Tannehill (a 146.5 passer rating to Cutler’s 61.7), Tom Brady (156.2-53.7) and Aaron Rodgers (155.1-40.3). While the opposition quarterbacks have combined to throw 12 touchdowns with no interceptions in the first half of those games, Cutler hasn’t even been close — 27-of-48 for 261 yards, one touchdown, three interceptions and a 52.5 passer rating. The Bears have trailed 14-0, 35-7 and 42-0.
“An assortment of things,” Cutler said when asked what has been holding back the offense in the first half of those recent games. “We just have to get better and it starts with me.”
You never know if it’s a good or bad thing when Cutler puts the onus on himself to get things going. When he’s singularly focused — like in two-minute drills with minimal interference — he’s often at his best. But when he feels he has to do it all, he’s often at his worst. There has to be a happy medium somewhere. It’s his job to find it.
“Whenever you’re losing your confidence is going to be a little bit lower,” Cutler said. “If you go in the game with low confidence you don’t have a chance in this league.
“I’ve got to help with that. We talked about it [Wednesday] — just getting energy out there. If things aren’t going well on Sunday, somebody’s going to have to say something … and get some guys going because we’ve got some good guys in our huddle. We like our group. We feel like we should be able to move the ball better. So whatever we need to do.”
While the collapse of a defense fortified in free agency is disappointing, the demise of an offense that was eighth in yards and second in points last season is mystifying. The Bears have 13 false-starts on offense this season. At this time last year they had one.
“It is [confounding],” offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer said, “because we’re used to being productive and not having focus issues. We can’t have false starts that put us behind the chains. And you can’t get an answer out of the guy that does it, to be honest, right now.
“It’s like anything else in life — getting the momentum of success going and just having that feel that ‘I can do it.’ Because we know they can — we have good players. We’ve just got to put it together.”
It’s a group effort, but it starts with Cutler. For what it’s worth, he seemed to understand and appreciate that role better than ever this week.
“I love playing with the guys in my huddle, so that’s what gets me through it,” Cutler said when asked how he finds the energy to dig out of the current hole, “not letting those guys down and each day coming to work and knowing that they’re doing everything possible for us to win a ballgame. So I need to do the same.”
In fact, in the severe tumult that followed back-to-back disastrous losses to the Patriots and Packers, it was Cutler who stood tallest this week in the face of criticism and pointed questions. He even deftly deflected a potentially incendiary query about fans burning his jersey in the wake of Sunday night’s 55-14 loss to the Packers.
“It’s not the first time,” he said.
In times of crisis, it’s the quarterback’s job to stand up to the fire and set a tone for the team by acknowledging that they ultimately are responsible for the predicament they’re in and the criticism they’re receiving. For what it’s worth, Cutler did that as well as he ever has this week.
“It comes with the territory,” he said. “You’re losing ballgames [and] rightfully so, that’s what’s going to happen. The only way to remedy that is to win and to play better. So that’s all you can do.”