Welcome back, Jay.
Jay Cutler showed no sign that he was suffering from his Week 10 concussion, throwing for 188 yards and completing almost 75 percent of his passes in the Chicago Bears' convincing 28-10 win over the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday.
With Cutler back and a one-game lead over the Green Bay Packers, the Bears are poised to finish atop the NFC North.
It’s easy to focus on the negatives from Sunday’s win. The Vikings are a mediocre team playing without their best receiver. The Bears lost four star players—Matt Forte, Devin Hester, Lance Briggs and Charles Tillman—to injuries. And the already-weak offensive line took another hit as Chris Spencer and Lance Louis left the game with injuries.
Those injuries hurt Chicago, but the Bears have the one guy back whom they need the most.
The need for Cutler was painfully obvious the past two weeks, as Jason Campbell struggled to put together anything on offense.
Cutler is often criticized for staying in the pocket too long and taking too many sacks. But his ability to extend plays and hang in the pocket, letting plays develop downfield, is the reason the Bears are 8-3.
The touchdown throw to Matt Spaeth was a perfect example. From 13 yards out, Cutler rolled left to avoid pressure and threw a bullet to Spaeth that was nearly, but not quite, too wide of the end zone.
Cutler’s ability to make the difficult throws and to avoid pressure despite the porous Bears offensive line is what keeps Chicago in games. Cutler’s 13 touchdowns to 11 interceptions are not going to win him any MVP awards (his completion percentage is actually lower than Campbell’s), but Cutler keeps the Bears in games and has avoided the fatal mistakes he’s made in the past.
The Bears will go as far as Cutler is willing to take them. And Chicago has the NFC North in its sights.
Next up for the Bears are two matchups against 6-5 teams, the Seahawks and the Vikings. Then will come the ultimate litmus test for Chicago: a home game against the Green Bay Packers. The Bears then finish the season on the road at Arizona and at Detroit.
With Cutler and Brandon Marshall healthy, the Bears should win four of their final five games. Assuming the Packers drop one (or two if they beat Chicago on Dec. 16) of their final five games, the Bears will be NFC North champs.