Jay Cutler's Journey: NFC Championship Game Rests On His Shoulders

Keith GrieveContributor IJanuary 22, 2011

Jay Cutler will need to lead by example in the NFC Championship Game
Jay Cutler will need to lead by example in the NFC Championship GameAndy Lyons/Getty Images

The NFC Championship Game pits the NFL's fiercest historical rivals against each other to decide who represents the NFC in this year's Super Bowl.

Most of the "experts" in the media have picked the Green Bay Packers to triumph over the Chicago Bears and move on to play either the Pittsburgh Steelers or New York Jets for the NFL championship.

There are many subplots that play into this game: quarterback Aaron Rodgers creating his own legacy and stepping out of the shadow of the legendary Brett Favre, the Packers' myriad of injuries making the fact that they're even still playing that much more impressive, Bears head coach Lovie Smith's need for a contract extension that until six weeks ago was anything but guaranteed, and at least a billion other angles people can put on this game.

For the Bears, the most significant storyline is the journey of Jay Cutler.

The beleaguered quarterback seemed to whine his way out of Denver only to put up one of the more horrid statistical seasons of any Bears quarterback—and that's saying a lot. When you add to the mix the fact that the Bears gave up two first-round picks to the Broncos to acquire him and you have a player with an awful lot to prove.

Cutler is enigmatic to say the least. He is confident, which makes him seem aloof when he is clearly the one needing to do it better and cleaner than everyone else. That confidence, while it allows him to have a short memory, also causes him to try to fit the ball in spaces he really shouldn't.

These usually lead to interceptions that are at best unfortunate and at worst absolutely devastating depending on the time and circumstances under which they happen.

This season Cutler did not get much help early on from his offensive line, as it seemed they were more interested in finding out if a human being could be decapitated without using sharp edges. As the season wore on, the coaching staff settled on a lineup they liked and continuity brought a marked improvement in performance of not only Cutler, but running back Matt Forte.

The problem here is that the Packers get to the quarterback better than most teams. Most people would say that the impetus is on the offensive line to make sure protection is at a maximum. However we know what we're going to get from this group and Cutler does too. He'll need to know when to get rid of the ball quick and when he needs to tuck and run.

Which tells every football fan with any interest in this game that of all the machinations that will unfold as the game progresses, the one that means the most to the Bears is the play of their quarterback.

Big-game quarterbacks recognize this and respond accordingly. Pretenders throw two or three interceptions and never shake the monkey off their back. Cutler has made strides in Chicago the second part of this season. That all means nothing if Cutler lays an egg.

Sorry, Jay, it's on you.