One more (final?) time: The season is in Cutler's hands


One more (final?) time: The season is in Cutler's hands

Bears players knew very well what was at stake last week and the week before that and the week before that and

They did not do enough each time. The prospect of the collective light going on is the great unknown right now and sometimes it is open to question whether certain key figures fully grasp the moment.

I think any time you lose games, you lose consecutive games, theres going to be that doom that sets in of what we could do differently, what we should have done, said quarterback Jay Cutler. I think thats anywhere in the league. Even when I was in Denver, you lose a couple games here and there, and its the end of the world.

(It actually was, if you define world as playoffs.)

The three straight losses by the 2008 Broncos took them from 8-5 to out of the postseason. While it may have been convenient to blame a porous defense, the fact is that Cutler threw four interceptions vs. two touchdowns and failed to post a passer rating higher than 75 in any of those three games.

The 2012 Bears were 8-5 going into the Green Bay game and Cutlers passer rating (72.5) was eerily similar to those three failed efforts.

The abyss

The point is not to single out Cutler. Others have dropped the ball literally and figuratively to put the Bears in their present fix. But no single player holds as much of the franchise future in his hands as No. 6.

What Cutler has established over his time in Chicago is that he is not a quarterback who is a consistent force for bringing his team from behind, particularly against a good defense, which Arizonas most definitely is.

The concerning element is that Cutler himself is more than capable of helping his team into a trail technique, as his first-half interceptions against Minnesota and Green Bay amply demonstrated. If that happens Sunday in the desert, the Bears project to have the kind of bad loss that gets head coaches fired.

And quarterbacks franchise credentials questioned.

Once the season is over, I think that this organization will take time to let things settle down and figure out what the necessary steps are going forward, Cutler allowed. But as players, we cant worry about that. That cant be in the back of our mind, cant be anything were concerned with. We can only have one concern right now, and thats Arizona.

Another must win

The Lovie Smith Bears are 12-50 when they fail to score at least 18 points. Five of those 12 wins were in the 2005 season when the defense was the NFLs best in points-allowed. The likelihood of Cutler directing the offense to at least 18 points against the Cardinals is problematic at best.

Whether Smith wanted to characterize the Green Bay game as a must win did not alter the fact that it was, because without a win, the Bears were reduced to waiting for playoff scraps rather than being able to order off the menu and affect what their own fortunes. Smith addressed that loss only in terms of the NFC North, which it indeed affected.

But the defeat dropped the Bears into the hopper of wannabes like Dallas, Washington, New York and Minnesota, which the Bears had throttled just three weeks earlier but could not put away in Minneapolis when they had the chance.

A nagging sub-question then became whether the Bears were in fact deteriorating, from a 28-10 breezing to a 21-14 study in inept offense against the same team. Did the Vikings get better or the Bears worse?

The loss to the Packers, turning just as the Minnesota game did, on Jay Cutler interceptions, gave a disturbing answer at a time when the head coach was being evaluated. And evaluations of head coaches jobs are less about game specifics but rather where the team is trending.

All I know how to do is come back and get it corrected the next week, said defensive end Julius Peppers. Weve got to win these two and see how everything else works out. But were going to win these last two.

We dont have any more chances. We have to win them all and whatever we can do, weve got to do it now.

Jay Cutler remaining Bears starter not assured when he returns from thumb injury

Jay Cutler remaining Bears starter not assured when he returns from thumb injury

Lovie Smith was clear: “Rex is our quarterback.”

Phil Emery was clear: Jay Cutler is an “elite” quarterback.

John Fox isn’t so clear: When Jay Cutler is cleared to return from his thumb injury, Cutler is not automatically still the Bears starting quarterback.

"I don't think there are any givens and that's not an indictment on anybody,” Fox said on Monday. “This is a day-to-day, week-to-week, what-have-you-done-for-me-lately league and so we’re just trying to get the best 11 guys out there regardless of the position to where we can play a full 60 minutes and get a victory.”

Tough love is arguably the most effective management style with Cutler. Unlike the contracts and praise heaped on Cutler by prior administrations, current coaches and the organization withheld judgment on him after taking over in 2015. Cutler, who typically played worse after getting contract extensions and gaudy compliments, responded with the best season of his career.

Cutler watched from the sidelines as the Bears were beaten 31-17 by the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday behind Brian Hoyer, who was able to give the Bears some production in the second half for the first time this year, albeit only after the Bears were down 24-3.

“I thought [Hoyer] made good decisions,” Fox said, then qualified, “Not all of them. I think the very first play of the game didn’t go quite as smooth as we’d like. I thought he did some good things. I thought the pass-pro and some of those things helped the situation. I think we did have some explosive runs — we had more explosive plays in this game than we did in the prior two. We’ll evaluate that as we move forward and prepare for Detroit.”

The ultimate question is not whether Brian Hoyer is as good as Jay Cutler.

The evaluation will be whether Hoyer had success because the pass protection and run game worked better, or the bigger question, did those phases of the offense work better because of Hoyer. Offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains has stated that a primary job of a quarterback is to get the other 10 players on the huddle to do theirs well. If the evaluation process, which could include another game next Sunday when the Detroit Lions come to Soldier Field, points to the offense functioning better for Hoyer, the Bears will have a major decision to make.

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Cutler has been benched because of performance only once in Chicago, late in 2014, for one game. He started the following week because Jimmy Clausen sustained a concussion.

Some perspectives on Bears QB switches

Back in 2005, while over at a social event during Super Bowl week in Detroit, a prominent member of the Bears’ defense vented on a decision that in his opinion cost the Bears their season. That decision was to go back to Rex Grossman as quarterback from Kyle Orton, who had been the quintessential game manager as a fourth-round rookie filling in while Grossman worked back from a broken ankle suffered in preseason.

“We’d’ve been here [in the Super Bowl] if we’d’a stayed with Kyle,” the Pro Bowl defender said.

That didn’t happen in the “Rex is our quarterback” phase of Smith’s tenure.

Josh McCown by his own assessment was not as good a player as Cutler in 2013 when the best-chance-to-win decision had to be made between those two. Coaches wanted to stay with McCown, the GM insisted on Cutler; the team stayed on course with Cutler, accelerated that direction actually, letting McCown leave for Tampa Bay and giving Cutler the “Jay is our quarterback” max contract.

But while Smith was invested in Grossman, who did get the Bears to the Super Bowl the next year, and Phil Emery invested in Cutler, who has won just one playoff game in his seven Bears seasons, coach John Fox and GM Ryan Pace have not gone all-in on quarterbacks they inherited. They stayed with Cutler without any real alternative last year, and Fox admitted that Cutler was perhaps one of the biggest positive surprises coming out of last season, when then-coordinator Adam Gase was the loudest voice in the room on that quarterback decision and the organization stayed with the quarterback to whom millions were guaranteed.

Now there is an alternative, who like McCown was vis’a’vis Cutler, is not Cutler’s football equal physically (“Have you seen him throw?” McCown answered one reporter asking what Cutler did that he, McCown, couldn’t).

Whether the Bears take that alternative will play out in practice and possibly a game over the next seven days.

Blackhawks: Abbott happy to be back after season in Sweden

Blackhawks: Abbott happy to be back after season in Sweden

Spencer Abbott enjoyed his short stint in Rockford, which came after he was acquired by the Blackhawks in February 2015. At the time, he thought staying here was his most likely plan.

Then he got an offer Frölunda in Sweden.

“I thought, ‘why not give it a shot? Maybe it’ll be a good experience and bring it back with me,’” said Abbott on Monday. “It was worth it, for sure. I have no regrets.”

Abbott, who’s back with the Blackhawks, had never been to Europe prior to getting that Frölunda offer. But his first trip across the pond was a good one as Abbott was part of Frölunda’s run to its Swedish and Champions hockey league titles. Abbott had 14 goals and 21 assists in 51 regular-season games. Abbott got plenty out of the games, but not nearly as much as he did in the team’s training camp.

“The first month and a half you’re over there, you’re there from 8 [a.m.] to 4 [p.m.] every day. I think over here there’s a rule against being here for more than 3-4 hours, but not over there. It’s like a 9-5 job for a month and a half, a lot of working out, a lot of bike riding. So for me, that was good because I had never been in that kind of shape before,” said Abbott, who added he’s trying to incorporate some of that into his routine here. “Training camps here are hard but they’re just different over there. There’s a lot of ice, bigger ice [overseas], so they really condition you. So my conditioning may be a bit better.”

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As much as Abbott loved his time in Sweden, he ultimately wanted to be back in the NHL. So when the Blackhawks offered him a one-year deal, he jumped at it. He’s gotten off to a good start this training camp, scoring a few goals in the team’s early scrimmages.

“I wasn’t sure how it would play out, to be honest. I’m 28 and pretty early in the summer they were showing interest,” Abbott said. “This is one for the places I really wanted to come, because I did l really like the organization when I was here for that brief period of time. Now I get the full effect as long as they’ll have me. It’s such a good organization.”

Abbott probably could have kept playing overseas but he wanted another chance in the NHL. He’s happy it’s once again coming in the Blackhawks’ organization.

“It’s overwhelming. There are so many places to play hockey nowadays in Europe. There are tons of leagues over there. But it didn’t interest me,” he said. “I wanted to come back and give it one more shot.”