Without slamming the door shut on Cutler's potential, I did not anticipate seeing much in the season's final two weeks to give me any indication he could right the ship in any meaningful way by next season.
And while Monday night's performance hardly has me envisioning No. 6 lighting up the 2010 NFC Pro Bowl ballet, it was the first time in the post bye week debacle that has been Chicago's season, in which Cutler actually displayed the fortitude fans were expecting when the team traded away two first round picks to acquire him in April.
It's a staple of bad teams to roll over in defeat when good teams put the heat on, and this very bad Bear team was doing it's part, as the defense allowed the same Viking offense which it stymied in the first half, to march up-and-down the field with ease in the second half.
Cutler for the most part, played well with limited opportunities. After Daniel Manning set the Bears up with good field position via a 57-yard kickoff return, I was just hoping the offense could get into field goal range without turning the ball over. Cutler and co. did me one better by putting together an impressive drive, culminating in a two-yard TD pass to Desmond Clark, which re-establishing their momentum.
The good feelings didn't last, sadly, as Cutler did resort to his pick-happy ways. His interception to Cedric Griffin at the end of the third quarter was as bad as any of the league-high 26 he's accounted for this season, and played a big part in helping the Vikings force a late 23-all tie.
When Manning again answered a Minnesota score with a long kickoff return (59 yards), the nerves of Chicago weren't any less unsettled. But seemingly unfazed by his earlier mistake, Cutler hit Earl Bennett for a 20-yard touchdown on the drive's second play, and showed enough poise to indicate maybe, just maybe, he would be able to lead an overtime rally after the defense inevitably allowed a game-tying Viking score.
Cutler flashed his upper-echelon talent not once, but twice in the game's extra frame, hitting Devin Aromashodu for 33-yards on the first play of OT, to help set up the usually reliable Robbie Gould for a game-winning 45-yard field goal, which he inevitably shanked.
After Gould's miss, the defense finally stepped-up with two big stops, including forcing a greased-fingered Adrian Peterson fumble, which gave Cutler another chance to show he was capable of making a big play when needed.
And to the dismay of Viking fans everywhere, he delivered, throwing a precision perfect laser to Aromashodu (a standing ovation to the coaching staff for keeping this guy on the sideline for half the season), giving the Bears a fairly meaningless, yet ultimately satisfying 36-30 victory.
This was a rare highlight for Cutler, who has been the most maligned player in the NFL this season. Some will argue this performance was too-little-too-late, and while there is merit to that, I feel it's wrong to take nothing good out of Monday's win.
Regardless of how the season were to finish, 2009 was a complete wash for the Bears on the field. Add horrid moves by management (Gaines Adams) and the coaching staff (15 catches, 226 yards and two scores against the likes of Charles Woodson and Antoine Winfield, and you seriously can't get Aromashodu a catch until week 10?) to Cutler's woes and there was little reason to expect anything resembling success in Chicago in the coming seasons.
Then came Monday. Say what you want about the statistical meaninglessness of Cutler's performance against the Vikings, for a guy who's been buried by negativity all season long, it took serious gumption for him to dig as deep as he did to pull out such a gutsy win. It was, at the very least, a glimmer of hope amongst three months of desolation.
Before I let my optimism get away from me, I will acknowledge this is a small, virtually invisible glimmer in terms of next season. The Bears have too many holes to fill and too few resources to fill them immediately. Anyone entertaining ideas of seeing the Bears even catching a whiff of playoff contention in '10 is living in a world of pure fantasy.
As for the oft-discussed QB, he needs to spend this offseason working on the mental breakdowns which have led to the interception-filled season, thus transforming him from a city's savior to a league-wide punchline. He needs a lot of help for sure, but if he ever wants to succeed in Chicago, he absolutely needs to get his head right, or else the weight of failed expectations will crush him.
While he doesn't escape blame for the Bears' woes, Jay Cutler came into this year with an almost impossible task: rectifying nearly six decades of ineptitude at the quarterback position in Chicago. Throw in the fact that his team is about as bad as anyone in the NFL not playing in Missouri or Detroit, it really wasn't within the realm of realistic possibility to expect him to accomplish much this season.
That said, if a performance like the one he displayed Monday night can help him get his confidence back, there just may be reason to believe he has the fortitude to tough out the rough seasons which may lie ahead.
It was too late for '09, but I saw something in Jay Cutler Monday that I haven't seen in months; a spark. If he can channel this into an entire season's work, there still may be hope for him to be come the long awaited quarterback savior Bear fans have been impatiently waiting for.