After throwing two ugly interceptions and handing the Minnesota Vikings seven points with a fumble, Cutler found tight end Martellus Bennett on a picture-perfect with 10 seconds left to steal a win from the jaws of defeat, 31-30.
It's now time to buy into what Cutler and new Bears head coach Marc Trestman are selling. If anything, the 30-year-old Cutler's two-game start under Trestman proved that this once-shakable quarterback has the resiliency to bounce back and provide winning plays against two playoff teams from 2012.
His three costly turnovers could have very easily doomed him and the Bears Sunday, and it appeared to be playing out exactly that way deep into the fourth quarter. But after taking the field with just over three minutes to play and the Bears down six, Cutler led a 10-play march that finished with Bennett's game-winning score.
He did all the heavy lifting on the drive. Cutler connected with Brandon Marshall twice for 22 yards, including a 12-yard hookup on third down. Later, he found Bennett for 23 yards one play after offensive tackle Jermon Bushrod set up a tricky 1st-and-20 situation with a holding penalty.
But Cutler saved his best throw for last.
On 3rd-and-10—and with just 16 seconds left—Cutler put a 16-yard strike on the back shoulder of Bennett, who had cornerback Chris Cook boxed out along the sidelines. The Bears tight end spun to adjust, absorbed the contact from Cook, and secured the game-winner while keeping two feet in bounds.
Cutler put the football where only his receiver could make the play. It was the perfect example of throwing a player open, and Bennett made a big-time catch to cap the sequence.
For the second time in as many weeks, Jay Cutler won the Bears a football game with a touchdown toss late in the fourth quarter.
He beat a talented Cincinnati Bengals team in Week 1 with a frozen rope to Marshall that provided Chicago the winning margin. The overall performance Sunday (28-of-39, 290 yards, 3 TD, 2 INT) wasn't as pretty for Cutler, but his cool under pressure late is still the biggest reason for the Bears being 2-0.
Coach Trestman certainly deserves credit for helping reshape and refine Cutler's game.
The rocket arm has always been obvious with Cutler, but Trestman's steady demeanor and encyclopedic knowledge of the quarterback position have made sure that the good with Cutler has shown up in the biggest moments.
On the game-winning drive Sunday, Cutler was 7-of-10 for 76 yards.
It has also helped that the play-calling is now synced up with the strengths and weaknesses of the offense. The long drops and unimaginative route trees have been replaced with quick decisions and efficient passing concepts. Cutler faced pressure at times against the Vikings but took only one sack.
|Week 1 vs. CIN||21/33||242||2/1||93.1|
|Week 2 vs. MIN||28/39||290||3/2||97.2|
The bad still reared its ugly face at times, especially during his three turnover plays. The two interceptions were head-scratchers, and the fumble directly led to points for Minnesota. Trestman will want to clean up those decisions.
But while the Cutler of old might have let those mistakes snowball into another one of his frightening performances, the new Cutler corrected course and made the plays the Bears absolutely needed down the stretch.
And there was still plenty of good in between.
What grade would you give Jay Cutler's first two games of 2013?
Cutler completed at a 72 percent clip, flirted with 300 yards, and averaged 7.4 yards per attempt. His two first-quarter touchdowns helped him finish with a respectable passer rating of 97.2 despite the two picks.
Cutler also fed his playmakers, giving Marshall and Bennett seven receptions each. Running back Matt Forte caught 11 passes and finished with 30 total touches. The Bears were even efficient on third down, converting seven of 12 tries. And 66 plays resulted in 24 first downs.
Chicago's signal-caller certainly didn't match the efficiency and sharpness of his season debut, and he now has four turnovers in two games. But the Bears can handle some of the bad as long as the good continues showing up.
So far, good Cutler has been unbeatable in the pressure moments of back-to-back games against two solid opponents.
If he can clean up the bad and maintain the development he's already made under Trestman, Jay Cutler's fast start in 2013 is certainly worth buying over the long term.