Since the final whistle blew on Sunday evening, many critics have blamed quarterback Jay Cutler for the Bear’s loss to Green Bay. Most of this criticism has focused on his injury and how his “giving up on the team” and “lack of toughness” caused the Bears to lose.
These claims are unfair and misguided. Cutler has proved his toughness throughout the season, missing only one game due to injury despite enduring a league-leading 56 sacks. Secondly, anger seems to stem from his apparent indifference on the sideline—but his sideline antics had absolutely no impact on the Bear’s loss. Chicago lost the game because of a slow start, fantastic individual efforts by Green Bay and poor performances by many players on the team, including Cutler. Instead of focusing solely on Cutler, fans should examine how the team as a whole failed.
Jay Cutler’s Mediocre Performance
Cutler deserves a fair amount of criticism, but not because of his knee injury, which has been repeatedly confirmed as legitimate by his coaches, teammates and doctors. His performance in the first half was mediocre at best, and in no way is acceptable in a championship game against a historic rival.
The only receiver he seemed to be able to find was Matt Forte, arguably the only offensive player to have any impact in the first half of the game. Cutler threw eight incomplete passes, an interception and fumbled the ball. This performance cannot be blamed on the offensive line—Cutler had plenty of time in the pocket and was only sacked twice.
Meanwhile, Aaron Rodgers threw for 156 yards in the first half, almost doubling Cutler’s total. Third-string Chicago quarterback Caleb Hanie also outperformed Cutler, throwing for 153 yards to Cutler’s 80, even though he entered the game in the last minute of the third quarter.
It is doubtful that Cutler’s performance would have improved had he remained in the game. If anything, he did the Bears a favor by stepping out instead of playing through his injury, allowing Todd Collins and Caleb Hanie a chance to lead the offense.
Green Bay’s touchdown in the opening drive boosted Green Bay’s momentum and set the tone for the rest of the game. Aaron Rodgers shredded Chicago’s defense during the first quarter, making Chicago look ineffective and undeserving of a playoff spot. The weak offensive play between Green Bay’s two scoring drives in the first half was discouraging, with Chicago failing to even make it into the red zone. By the end of the first half, Green Bay had run 252 to Chicago’s 103 net yards and scored two touchdowns.
The disastrous first-half performance was capped by an even worse third quarter, when Cutler was sidelined with an injury, an ineffective Todd Collins threw four incomplete passes and an almost-interception before Chicago desperately turned to third-string quarterback Caleb Hanie in the final minute. By the end of the third quarter, a Green Bay win looked inevitable.
The momentum finally began to shift in the fourth quarter with Chester Taylor’s touchdown. Despite throwing two interceptions, Hanie put forth an excellent performance and the defense did a better job holding Rodgers at bay. Earl Bennett’s touchdown with just under five minutes to go brought the score to 14-21, giving Chicago hope. Unfortunately, this impressive turnaround was too little, too late.
Standout Individual Performances on Green Bay
Several players on Green Bay stepped up and made the effort and impact worthy of a championship game. Rodgers, always a consistent performer, had a series of impressive drives in the first half that put Green Bay quickly on the board. BJ Raji, only in his second season out of college, returned an interception for a critical touchdown late in the game and was a ferocious presence by pressuring Chicago’s quarterbacks throughout the game.
Cullen Jenkins also made a key impact, leading the team in tackles for a loss as well as quarterback hits along with Raji, who each had two. Another obvious standout was rookie Sam Shields, who had a field day with Cutler—sacking him and forcing a fumble (though recovered by Chicago) and catching two interceptions. Raji’s and Shields’ interceptions late in the fourth quarter were particular game changers, breaking any momentum Chicago was building and helping Green Bay maintain its lead.
Lack of Team Effort
In the rush to analyze quarterback performance, people often forget that football is a team sport and blame for a loss is shared among many. For instance, the usually stellar Devin Hester had only one decent return, and was a non-presence at wide receiver. Chicago’s defensive unit was helpless to stop Green Bay’s drives in the first half and were lucky that Green Bay only managed to score two touchdowns.
Excluding Urlacher, who had a good game with a crucial sack and an interception, fellow Pro-Bowlers Julius Peppers and Lance Briggs failed to make any significant impact. Although Briggs had an early interception when the ball bounced off of Donald Driver’s foot, both Briggs and Peppers registered worse-than-average performances compared to the rest of the season.
Matt Forte, Earl Bennett and Caleb Hanie were the only Chicago players who seemed to put forth a sustained effort and solid performance. Chester Taylor also deserves credit for scoring Chicago’s first touchdown. In the end, the team lacked intensity and did not play anywhere near the level that they are capable of. Green Bay’s entire squad came to play and simply seemed to want it more than Chicago. This isn’t a failure by Cutler alone, but a failure of the team.