If you are what your record says you are, Jay Cutler must be a pretty good quarterback after all.
Last week the Bears were hammered at San Francisco without him. This week he returned from a concussion and the Bears hammered the Vikings 28-10 in Soldier Field.
“It means this is a quarterback-driven league,” Bears wide receiver Brandon Marshall said after Sunday’s game.
With Cutler the Bears win somehow, some way. They’re 25-10 with him at quarterback since the start of the 2010 season.
Without Cutler, not so much. The Bears are 2-6 when any one of a variety of backups attempts to replace him.
“There’s nothing like a starting quarterback,” Marshall said. “Especially when the guy leading you is as talented as Jay. You can’t replace him.”
The Bears can only hope they don’t have to try again. Last season their record infamously slumped from 7-3 to 8-8 after Cutler was injured.
The Bears win with Cutler and lose without him even though he isn’t established yet as an elite NFL quarterback.
Cutler is inconsistent. Sometimes his mechanics are awful. Sometimes he makes bad decisions. Sometimes his emotions get in the way of his ability.
Yet through it all the Bears win a lot when Jay Cutler is available and lose too much when he isn’t.
The drubbing at San Francisco was attributed in great part to the Bears’ inferior offensive line making life miserable for quarterback Jason Campbell.
But against the Vikings the line was shredded by injuries and still the only sack of Cutler came when he tripped over center Roberto Garza’s foot.
Whether Cutler is playing well or not so well, his mere presence seems to make a difference.
“Everybody needs their starting quarterback in there,” Bears coach Lovie Smith said. “We’re no different.”
Cutler played well enough again to beat Minnesota. Something else seemed at play on this day, however.
“Jay was fiery … a sense of urgency,” Marshall said of the week leading up to the game. “The most I’ve seen all year. He wanted it perfect in practice, and I think it showed in the game. He was on fire today.”
Maybe that fire was why Cutler appeared to be even more involved early. Or maybe he was playing off the adrenaline stored from a week off.
In the first quarter alone Cutler barked at an official for a noncall, was charged with taunting for flipping the ball at Minnesota defensive back A.J. Jefferson and glared at Bears coaches when he had to burn a timeout.
Cutler generally is annoyed by his surroundings — customarily suffering the world’s failings ungraciously — but he appeared to be even more irritable against the Vikings.
Before long the Bears were prodded into a 25-3 lead that evolved into an 8-3 record for the season. Cutler had won again. The man wins, no question about it.
Of course, whether that makes Cutler a winner won’t be determined until he wins something more significant against a great opponent.
The playoffs, conference championship games and Super Bowls are where quarterbacks make their reputations.
Cutler still has to prove that he won’t fume his way into critical mistakes when the pressure is most intense.
“Jay,” Smith said, “is one of the best quarterbacks in the league.”
Cutler has the Bears convinced. In their minds his record confirms him as a franchise quarterback.
The developments of the past two weeks reinforce the notion.
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