Jay Cutler does what he needs to do to earn a win
Subscribe for unlimited digital access.
Try one month for $1!
Subscribe for unlimited digital access. Try one month for $1!
‘‘Let’s give them credit,’’ Buccaneers coach Lovie Smith said of the Bears.
All right, let’s do that.
The Bears’ 26-21 win Sunday was nothing beautiful or special. The Bears and Bucs are the quiet lower class of the NFL — both have gone 2-4 in their last six games and have no chance at finishing .500.
Games get easier when they’re sort of meaningless. That is, once the Bears blew up their postseason hopes with three straight losses after beating the Packers in Green Bay a month ago, it was wrap-the-presents and ‘‘Hail, jolly good fellow!’’ time.
It seems every starter in the NFL has been injured, so there are guys playing in games who are (a) taking in the scenery while updating their grad school résumés or (b) sneakily preparing to swipe some old vet’s job.
Then there’s Jay Cutler.
He has rolled on and on this season, missing time with an injury only in Game 2 against the Arizona Cardinals back in September.
Let’s give Cutty credit for that. I don’t know how you avoid injury in the NFL, other than trying hard not to break your thumb chasing an interceptor or having nothing to do with Ndamukong Suh under any circumstance.
But Cutler has been a veritable rock this season at quarterback, and against the Buccaneers he might not have looked as athletic or adventurous as the Bucs’ young Jameis Winston, but he looked like he absolutely knew how to win.
And isn’t that the deal?
His receiving corps was made up of second- and third-stringers — which means those players aren’t fast or overly nimble — and so Cutler didn’t try to make them do what they couldn’t. Short passes, screen passes, swing passes, mid-range passes against the deep zone — Cutler used the passing attack to keep the Bucs honest, so the Bears could run all over them.
Cutler’s stats — 20-for-27 for 156 yards, one TD and no turnovers — are good, not glossy. Again, what do you need to win?
Yes, Cutler was bailed out for the second week in a row when one of his interceptions was wiped out by a penalty on the other team.
That’s luck. So? The luck door swings both ways.
Look at Bears kicker Robbie Gould, who went 4-for-4 on field goals after gagging on some big ones in recent weeks. Boom! His door reopened!
‘‘We’re not playing for the playoffs, obviously,’’ Bears offensive lineman Matt Slauson said. ‘‘We’re building for next season.’’
Maybe that’s why they played well in this game, with caution and confidence. No pressure.
We know how ‘‘next season’’ always teases us like a mirage in a desert. Is that shimmering object a palm tree or a tombstone?
So trying out players such as young running back Ka’Deem Carey made sense.
‘‘There’s so many new guys on this team, so much turnover — in a good way,’’ Cutler said after the game. ‘‘I think [general manager] Ryan [Pace] and [coach] John [Fox] are doing a great job at putting the right guys in this locker room.’’
That must mean they want Cutler as well. He has had a decent statistical season and might have won two or three more games with a better defense and — dare we say it? — nutball Brandon Marshall still playing wide receiver for him. To wit: Alshon Jeffery is fragile and undependable, and the durable Marshall already has 101 receptions for 1,376 yards and 13 TDs with the playoff-bound New York Jets. Oopsie on that trade.
What we saw of Cutler was a veteran quarterback willing to ratchet down his game and play it safe. That’s something we’ve always wondered if he could do.
I particularly liked his 100.2 passer rating. Those ratings aren’t everything, but they’re helpful. His against the Bucs marked the fifth time he’d gone over 100 this season, and his ninth time over 90. Very good.
His seven-year contract for $126.7 million was ridiculed last year as likely the most bloated in the NFL. So it goes. There are bigger ones out there.
So if the Bears decide they almost certainly won’t get a quarterback of Cutler’s skill in the 2016 draft, or if nobody will touch his gigantic paycheck (which seems true), say hello to your once and future QB: Mr. Cutler.
Hard to believe next season will be his eighth in Chicago.
Once again, next year’s almost here.
Follow me on Twitter @ricktelander.