Jay Cutler's Debut Year With The Chicago Bears: The Silver Lining Found Within
I'm sure it's a word that has been both on the minds of Bears fans and on the tongues of sports-writers.
The Bears gave up two first-round draft selections, a third-round draft selection, and quarterback Kyle Orton to acquire Cutler's services.
A steep expenditure to be sure.
And while a 7-9 season backed by a league-leading 26 interceptions on Cutler's behalf might not appear to be anything remotely close to that which was expected, there was much more to Jay Cutler's 2009 season than meets the eye.
In all of my years of watching professional football, I had never seen a quarterback have a season as up and down as Cutler had last year.
It was almost as if we saw Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde rotate within the starting line-up from week to week.
One week Jay Cutler would morph into Ryan Leaf's incarnate, and the next, he would become possessed by the spirit of Peyton Manning.
It was odd, strange, and inconsistent.
The season totals simply don't paint the entire picture.
Jay Cutler (2009):
336-of-555 (60.5) for 3,666 yards, 27 touchdowns and 26 interceptions.
QB rating: 76.8
When Jay Cutler struggled, he really struggled.
One might assume that when the Bears lost, it would be due in part (large or small) to Cutler's performance; which was true for the most part.
Jay Cutler (during nine losses):
203-of-344 (59.0) for 2,125 yards, 11 touchdowns and 23 interceptions.
QB rating: 59.8
Cutler was absolutely awful in most of the Bears' losses, but his production totals during that span are skewed a bit considering he played quite well in defeat against the Arizona Cardinals during week nine (29-of-47 for 369 yards, three touchdowns and one interception).
Remove his one noble effort in defeat, and we see a pretty alarming rate of production in eight of the Bears' nine losses, which of course, accounts for half of Cutler's entire season.
Jay Cutler (during eight losses, week nine excluded):
174-of-297 (58.6) for 1,756 yards, eight touchdowns and 22 interceptions.
QB rating: 53.6
I also decided to take a closer look at what I would consider to be the low-lights of Cutler's 2009 season in an effort to shed some light on the situation.
*He threw for under 150 yards four times.
*He threw for only 94 yards against Baltimore in week 15.
*He threw for one or fewer touchdowns during eight of his 16 games.
*He played three games without throwing a single touchdown pass.
*He posted a quarterback rating under 75.0 in eight games.
*He posted a quarterback rating under 45.0 in three games.
*He posted a quarterback rating of 7.9 against Baltimore in week 15.
After you take into account all of the information provided above, it would be difficult to disagree with the same notion of disappointment that most Bears fans seemed to experience during 2009.
That is, until you realize that during this very same season, Jay Cutler played at a level higher than most quarterbacks could ever dream of.
Don't believe me?
Jay Cutler (during seven victories):
133-of-211 (63.0) for 1,541 yards, 16 touchdowns and three interceptions.
QB rating: 104.4
But even that production became skewed when you take into account the fact that Cutler managed to win against the Browns during week eight without playing at an exceptional level (17-of-30 for 225 yards, zero touchdowns and one interception).
If one wanted to see how well Cutler performed in victory with that game aside...
Jay Cutler (during six victories, week eight excluded):
116-of-181 (64.1) for 1,316 yards, 16 touchdowns and two interceptions.
QB rating: 110.6
A great portion of the success Cutler had during 2009 came at the conclusion of the season with two consecutive victories, one over the Vikings in overtime (36-30), and the other over the Lions during the final game of the season (37-23).
Jay Cutler (Week 16 & 17):
42-of-71 (59.1) for 549 yards, eight touchdowns and one interception.
QB rating: 115.3
It was a fantastic way to finish a season of many ups and downs; but the final product ended up being about as black and white as one could ever expect.
If you add Cutler's solid performance against the Cardinals during week nine to his production totals from the Bears seven victories, we end up with a very solid total for half of the season's games.
Jay Cutler (in seven victories, with week nine included):
162-of-258 (62.8) for 1,910 yards, 19 touchdowns and four interceptions.
QB rating: 103.3
As there were the low-points of Cutler's season, so too where there the high-points.
*He threw for over 250 yards seven times.
*He threw for over 300 yards three times.
*He threw for three or more touchdowns four times.
*He threw for four touchdowns twice.
*He posted a quarterback rating above 95.0 in seven games.
*He posted a quarterback rating above 100.0 in five games.
*His 3,666 passing yards were the most by any Bears quarterback in 14 years.
*His 27 touchdown passes were the most by any Bears quarterback in 14 years.
Another fact worthy of mention is that 38 times in history, a quarterback has thrown 26 or more interceptions in a single season. Out of those 38 instances, Cutler's 76.8 quarterback rating remains the second highest of any quarterback to have ever thrown that many interceptions.
The story of Jay Cutler's debut season with the Bears is one of night and day; and while that extreme level of inconsistency might terrify fans in Chicago, it is the light within the darkness that would grasp my attention.
Any quarterback can play poorly, but what Jay Cutler was able to show us is that he can play at a level above and beyond his lofty expectations.
The Jay Cutler that took the field for about half of the 2009 season was as good as any quarterback in the NFL.
Take into account the fact that the Bears defense was poor, their running-game struggled beyond logical expectations, their offensive line broke down too often, and their receiving corps was about as weak as any you'll find at the professional level, and one should gain a greater appreciation for what Cutler was able to do with such little support.
Much of the team's struggles can be placed on Cutler's shoulders, but at the same time, the quality of supporting cast also impacted the darker days in Chicago last season.
One has to ask themselves: If Jay Cutler was able to play at a Hall of Fame level for almost half the season in spite of the support he received, what might we expect to see when, and if, the Bears are ever able to surround Cutler with teammates of his own caliber?
With the recent acquisitions of Julius Peppers and Chester Taylor, things are starting to look better.
And with any luck, the darkest days should hopefully be behind Cutler and the Bears in Chicago.
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