The Chicago Bears and their loyal legion of fans didn't need to see the Bears get embarrassed on Monday night to conclude how valuable quarterback Jay Cutler is to the team, as that value was proven very easily last year with these simple figures:
Bears' record with Cutler: 7-3
Bears' record without Cutler: 1-5.
This led to an 8-8 season, and a team with its sights set squarely on the playoffs would wind up going home early, only to see the New York Giants rip off the run that many Bears fans were hoping would be their run in 2011.
This season is starting to oddly mirror last season, and not in a good way. With Jay Cutler at quarterback, Chicago started off the season at 7-1. When Cutler had it going on, he was unstoppable, and when he didn't, Chicago's stout defense was able to pick up the slack.
But since Cutler left Chicago's game against the Houston Texans in Week 10, the Bears have dropped their last two, and find themselves again at 7-3, the same spot they were at last season before faltering.
The good news though is that Cutler will return in due time, possibly as early as next week. But without him, as we saw last season and on Monday, Chicago's only chance at getting to New Orleans will likely be through the combination of Southwest Airlines and StubHub.com.
Cutler's value is obvious in the way he can get rid of the ball quickly. This is important with Chicago's offensive line being in the shape that it's in, which is nowhere near good, and a heck of a lot worse than bad.
The Bears line has been shut down in consecutive weeks when playing an elite defense, and while there's a good chance that Cutler wouldn't have performed well either, he likely would've been better than Jason Campbell.
The difference between the two quarterbacks is in athleticism and the chemistry each has with their receivers. Cutler is more athletic than Campbell, and does a better job of avoiding sacks. As for the chemistry, that's something that will always be an issue whenever a backup quarterback comes in for the starter.
Cutler has the advantage of working with the first team all throughout training camp and the regular season. For Campbell, his first time working with the first-teamers was likely during the Houston game, followed by a week of practice prior to the Bears' trip to San Francisco.
Defenses know that too, and know that Chicago will get more conservative with Campbell in the game. Cutler adds the vertical dynamic to the Bears offense that Bears fans hadn't seen before Cutler's arrival in 2009 (and Brandon Marshall's arrival this season).
Without that vertical passing game, it becomes a bit easier to stop Matt Forte and Michael Bush, who have both struggled in Chicago's last two games.
The definition of a valuable player is one who adds to the team. While some may scoff at some of Jay Cutler's turnovers and bonehead plays, he's the difference between the Bears being elite and being out of the playoffs. They're a playoff team with him, possibly even a Super Bowl team.
But without him? They're just another team in the middle of the pack.