Jay is our quarterback.
The phrase has been repeated by Chicago Bears coaches and players of past and present. Former head coach Lovie Smith stood in Halas Hall, consistently backing Jay Cutler and his ability as a passer and leader. Since arriving in Chicago, Marc Trestman has done the same. Even with great play from backup quarterback Josh McCown, the newly appointed head coach has stuck with his team captain.
Since 2009, the Bears have lost Jay Cutler numerous times to injury. Through the injuries, negative press and questionable decision making on the field, the team's brain trust has continued to show their faith in Cutler. However, the fans continue to think otherwise, often remembering the bad plays and not the potential Cutler brings to this team.
It is easy to understand the skepticism among the fans. Bears fans know there are two types of "Jay": Good Jay and Bad Jay. The Good Jay is the quarterback that the Bears traded for in 2009 from the Denver Broncos. A strong-armed gunslinger who carried an undeniable amount of swagger, capable of making huge plays with both his feet and arm. Bad Jay, however, is the one that resonates most with fans. It is the Jay Cutler that throws four interceptions in one game to Washington Redskins cornerback DeAngelo Hall in 2010. The guy who makes errant passes that leaves a fan up in arms.
That is what Trestman was brought in to fix. With a coach who has focused on quarterbacks over his career, the hope was that Trestman could make the Good Jay show up more then the bad. A team that was focused so much on defense for much of the franchise's history was finally going to focus on the offense, and Cutler was going to be the main attraction.
The Bears were set for success, but a new system doesn't always guarantee such results. With a new weapon in tight end Martellus Bennett and an emerging talent in Alshon Jeffery paired with veteran receiver Brandon Marshall, Cutler got off to a hot start. The team started 3-0, showing that Trestman's version of offense could be something special.
Cutler's numbers were not stellar, but a 2:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio was not terrible for a guy considered to be a gunslinger with a history of making numerous errors.
What gets lost in the numbers is how the games actually played out. Cutler has always been seen as a competitor, someone who is tough and puts himself out there for the team. But in this new system, Cutler was able to take those skills and add the confidence in the play-calling, especially in situations like the fourth quarter. Against both the Minnesota Vikings and Cincinnati Bengals, the Bears found themselves down going into the final quarter.
Cutler was able to overcome such a difficult situation in both games, keeping himself and the offense even-tempered. The Bears came out of both games with a win, all due to Cutler taking the offense downfield to take game-deciding leads.
Cutler's efforts in the fourth earned him the moniker "Mr. 4th Quarter" by Marshall, as the star receiver exhibited his confidence in the man handling the flow of the team's offense.
"If it's the fourth quarter, I have a lot of confidence," wide receiver Brandon Marshall said of Cutler. "We have 'Mr. Fourth Quarter' in our huddle. He's just ice cold. He makes everything so easy."
While things were rolling, it is tough to imagine the season going perfect in a new system. The Bears quickly learned just that against the Detroit Lions on the road, as Bad Jay showed back up, with Cutler throwing three interceptions. Those rumblings of "Bad Jay" were being brought back to life, bringing all the incredible progress of "Good Jay" to a screaming halt.
Despite the loss and poor performance early on, Cutler and the Bears were able to once again score in the fourth quarter. Cutler was able to find both Jeffery and Earl Bennett for late touchdowns, including two successful two-point conversions that gave the Bears an actual chance to pull off a miracle in the Motor City. The early mistakes definitely cost the team the potential win, but through Cutler's strong fourth-quarter efforts, you could see that something special was still happening.
Despite the losing record, Cutler's stats were almost identical, and in some cases, better than his first three winning games. Based on the results of his first six games, Cutler was on pace to throw for 4,346 yards. That many yards would have been his second-best season in total yards.
One thing was clear — the progress was there. The only thing that was going to derail Cutler's development and the Bears 4-2 start was another injury.
History would have its way.
In the Bears' matchup with the Washington Redskins, Cutler was brought down awkwardly in the second quarter and never returned to the field. Trestman was forced to turn to his backup QB. And while McCown nearly pulled off the comeback win in D.C., his inspirational efforts were not enough, as poor defense left the final result as a loss. The game wasn't the only loss for the Bears, as a groin injury looked to keep Cutler out for a very long time, impeding the progress that was taking place.
With Cutler sidelined, McCown squeezed out a 27-20 win at Green Bay. The Packers were without Aaron Rodgers for everything but the Packers' first drive. Nobody can say how the game would have gone with Rodgers out there, but nonetheless it was a win in Lambeau and kept the team's postseason dreams alive.
Cutler, who has been unfairly bashed over his career by the media of not being a competitor, tried to return to the field to pull off a much-needed win at home against the Lions. Despite his efforts, Cutler injured his ankle, handing the keys of the offense back to McCown. The loss hurt the team in the NFC North, but it also left their future murky as they now had to rely on their backup to carry the season.
To mostly everyone's surprise, McCown was able to keep the Bears afloat. He was able to earn the respect of both the fans and media, managing the game like a franchise quarterback. The Bears stayed alive in an inconsistent NFC North. Despite the praise, consecutive losses at both Minnesota and St. Louis proved that the 34-year-old veteran wasn't the answer.
McCown did a phenomenal job taking over. The actual talent between the two quarterbacks is night and day, which is why once he was ready to go, Cutler was the clear choice by the coaching staff.
After a huge performance and win by McCown against a depleted Dallas Cowboys defense, Trestman declared Cutler as the team's starter once again. Fans were frustrated, and understandably so. McCown was seen as the guy. He had the hot hand, and the Bears were the second-highest scoring offense in the NFL.
Bringing Cutler back in was going to potentially destroy all the progress the team made. The pressure was on Cutler, and the team had to see which guy was going to show up — the Good or Bad Jay.
In the team's first drive, the debate was all but over. Cutler was driving the team downfield, but that party ended quickly as Cutler threw his first pick of the game on his fourth attempt. Bad Jay was back, and the fans were ready to pull him for their reliable backup.
Cutler continued to show progress, but a red-zone interception in the second quarter once again brought the team's decision into question.
Down seven, the Bears entered the fourth quarter and all eyes turned to good old Fourth Quarter Jay — the man with ice in his veins. But was that ice still there, or did he thaw out while he being sidelined?
Nothing changed. Cutler managed to put 14 points on the board through the air, giving the Bears a seven-point lead with just more than five minutes left in the game, giving Cutler another win on the 2013 season.
It will remain to be seen which Cutler shows up in the final two games of regular season. While fans may still believe in McCown as the better option, the team has decided that Cutler gives them their best chance to win.
Not only that, but they need to figure out the future of the team. With Cutler being in the final year of his contract, the Bears need to know where they stand his with progress and future with the team. While some may see it as a gamble for this postseason, shutting down Cutler for McCown would have ended his career in Chicago, gambling their future more than just the season.
The fans need to get behind Cutler, and believe in his abilities to take this offense to elite levels. If Cutler can continue to immerse himself into the offense and grow a greater understanding of the system, he has the potential to show the fans what he is capable of and that they should stand behind him just like the people who made that decision.
And while it is hard to always take him seriously, Stephen A. Smith said it best recently:
These final two games will give the Bears a chance to enter the postseason. If Good Jay shows up, they could be a dangerous offense that would give any defense a run for their money.