In a lot of ways, the two quarterbacks who will face off Monday night when the Bears and the Cowboys meet on national TV are alike. And in a lot of ways, they’re not.
The Bears’ Jay Cutler and Dallas’ Tony Romo grew up in small-town Middle America and wound up playing under the brightest of lights on the biggest of stages.
Romo went from the relative obscurity of Burlington (Wis.) High School and Eastern Illinois University to America’s Team. Cutler made it out of Santa Claus, Indiana, to non-football-powerhouse Vanderbilt and eventually to one of the NFL’s charter franchises by way of Denver.
Along the way, they’ve dated/married/had children with Hollywood’s elite, beauty queens and reality stars, although Romo has a much longer history.
He’s married to Candice Crawford, Miss Missouri USA 2008. Before that he dated country music superstar Carrie Underwood and “movie star” Jessica Simpson.
Cutler and reality star Kristin Cavallari had a baby boy during training camp.
Both players also are extremely gifted in different ways.
While Romo has a gun for an arm; Cutler has a bazooka.
Cutler has excellent athleticism and better mobility than expected for a 6-foot-3, 220-pound quarterback.
Romo lacks blazing speed, and he’s not going to run for big yardage, nor is he looking to. But he’s one of the most elusive quarterbacks of his generation. When he escapes the pocket, he’s still looking to get the ball downfield, which is when he’s really dangerous.
“He’s a playmaker,” said Bears defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli. “He has instincts; awareness. He’s got a great feel for avoiding the rush. He moves around to create lanes down the field to throw.
“You’ve just got to control the pocket as much as anything. You’ve got to keep him inside. You’ve got to make him work inside of a pocket because, once he’s out of there, he’s special. He’s really good.”
Both players have posted impressive regular-season numbers, especially Romo, whose current career passer rating of 96.6 is third best in NFL history, trailing only Aaron Rodgers (103.2) and Steve Young (96.8). Romo is .2 ahead of New England’s Tom Brady.
But Cutler and Romo have been disappointments in the postseason — in Cutler’s case because he’s only gotten there once.
After the 2010 season, he was brilliant in a divisional-round victory over Seattle but awful a week later in an NFC title-game loss to Green Bay in which he was sidelined halfway through with a knee injury.
Romo has helped the Cowboys to the playoffs three times since taking over as the starter in 2006, but he’s just 1-3 in the postseason.
Both also have been lightning rods for criticism, often from their own fans, often for failing to come up big at crunchtime.
While Romo hasn’t studied Cutler, he says he has seen enough of him to be impressed.
“I don’t watch him much on tape, but I’ve seen him playing just from the national games and stuff like that,” Romo said. “He does a great job. He’s a strong-armed quarterback who gives whatever team he’s playing for a chance, and that’s what you ask for.”
As for the criticism and the intense scrutiny, Romo says that’s just part of the job. He seems comfortable with it, a major difference between him and Cutler.
“There’s a microscope for every quarterback on every team,” Romo said. “I’ve never been anywhere else other than Dallas.
“It just feels normal playing football in the NFL, that part of the process is to be critiqued and things of that nature. I don’t think that’s any different than any other place.
“It’s about winning and losing in the NFL.”
Romo led the Cowboys to winning records in each of his first four seasons as a starter. But Dallas is just 14-18 over the past two seasons.
Since high school, Cutler has played on a team with a winning record just once, in 2010.
Romo and Cutler currently find themselves in similar situations. Both are leading teams that are 2-1 yet are dealing with numerous offensive concerns, centering on a lack of production despite what appears to be a glut of talent.
The Bears are just 27th in total yards, while the Cowboys are tied for last in points per game.
And, after Monday night, only one of them will have a winning record.
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