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

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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.

Bad blood fueled Bears-Vikings playoff bout profiled in 'Bears Classics: Eclipsing Moon'

Bad blood fueled Bears-Vikings playoff bout profiled in 'Bears Classics: Eclipsing Moon'

From the high ground of hindsight, what unfolded in the Metrodome that day in 1995 was actually quite a big deal. But not for reasons that you could have really understood at the time watching the Bears stun the Minnesota Vikings 35-18 in the wild card round of the 1994 playoffs.

It was not so much the game alone. It was the overall context of the time for the Bears, before and after.

Though the 1995 season would get off to a 6-2 start for the Bears before their near-historic collapse, the Minnesota game would prove to be the high-water mark for the coaching tenure of Dave Wannstedt. This was the postseason, and the Bears looked to be going where then-president Mike McCaskey envisioned when he made the play to beat the New York Giants in securing Wannstedt, who was unquestionably the hot coaching prospect coming out of the Dallas Super Bowl pantheon after the 1992 season.

To fully grasp the situation, you need to understand the undercurrent of venom that had developed between the Bears and Vikings. Bears-Packers might have been the glitzy rivalry, but what had grown between the Bears and Vikings was true hostility, with little of the respect that the Bears and Packers had managed. The Vikings carried grudges for Pro Bowl slights going back almost to the Bears' Super Bowl win. One Bears defensive lineman remarked that his most hated opponent was Minnesota right tackle Tim Irwin, adding, "He's a guy that, if I ran over him with a car, I'd back up over him to make sure I got him." Dwayne Rudd's backpedaling taunt after an interception came a couple years later, but you get the idea.

What's easily forgotten looking back through the mists of time was the epic decision made by Wannstedt to make a quarterback change, from a quarterback he wanted in free agency to one he knew well from their time together at the University of Miami. That was every bit the turning point of the season and the real reason the playoff trip and win ever happened.

The Bears had been annihilated in their first game against the Vikings in the 1994 season — 42-14 — and something was really, really wrong, which become glaringly more evident just a few weeks later, even though the Bears were reaching a 4-2 mark under quarterback Erik Kramer, the centerpiece of an aggressive offseason foray into free agency. But the Bears then lost — badly — to the Lions and Packers, with Kramer throwing three interceptions against Detroit and two against Green Bay, the latter in only 10 pass attempts.

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I talked privately to Kramer after the Green Bay game, specifically about why it was that he was playing his absolute worst against Detroit, Green Bay and Minnesota, all teams with which he was intimately familiar. My thought: You know those defenses and where their people are going to be.

Kramer shook his head: "The 'other guys' I know. It's my own guys. I don't know where they're supposed to be."

It wasn't a comment on his receivers whatsoever. It was Kramer admitting bluntly that he was not getting the West Coast scheme of coordinator Ron Turner and its timing element.

Wannstedt knew it wasn't working and made the change to Steve Walsh, who'd been the Hurricanes' quarterback under Jimmy Johnson when Wannstedt was the defensive coordinator.

That was the tipping point, and Walsh and Wannstedt are among the principals of "Bears Classics: Eclipsing Moon," airing on Monday at 8 p.m. on CSN.

Anyone with any time spent in or around the NFL knows that beating a team three times in a season is incredibly difficult. The Bears had been blown out in the first Minnesota game but had pushed the Vikings to overtime in the second and would have won had Kevin Butler not missed a 40-yard field goal try.

The playoff meeting was No. 3, and after the Vikings put up a field goal in the first quarter, the Bears scored with a Lewis Tillman touchdown in the second and just pulled steadily away from the winner of the only NFL division that produced four teams with winning records.

From there it would be another decade-plus — 2006 season — before the Bears would win a playoff game.

New Fire acquisition Dax McCarty tweets thank you to Red Bull fans

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USA TODAY

New Fire acquisition Dax McCarty tweets thank you to Red Bull fans

When the Chicago Fire traded for midfielder Dax McCarty it surprised many around Major League Soccer.

McCarty had been with the New York Red Bulls for five and a half seasons and served as the team's captain in recent years. He was a central figure in the club's identity and success (2013 and 2015 Supporters' Shield winners). His departure was devastating to many fans and came at a busy time in McCarty's life.

He got married two days before the trade and had just arrived with the U.S. national team for the annual January camp that takes place during the MLS offseason and largely features domestically based players.

On Sunday McCarty took to Twitter to thank Red Bulls fans in a lengthy note.

McCarty says he was blindsided by the trade.

"I have been in the league long enough to know how things work, yet somehow I was still surprised," McCarty said in the note. "I've been sitting here for a week trying to process everything, and I still can't quite come up with the words to describe how I'm feeling."

McCarty then thanked his teammates, the support staff with the Red Bulls, Red Bulls fans and his wife.

"To the fans: Thank you for giving me 5 1/2 of the best years of my life," he wrote.

The note is similar to what Harry Shipp tweeted after the Fire traded the Lake Forest native to the Montreal Impact. Shipp was again traded this offseason, to reigning MLS Cup champion Seattle.

One difference between the two is that Shipp mentioned being excited to join Montreal. McCarty made no mention of Chicago or the Fire.

"It will be weird stepping onto the field at Red Bull Arena as an opponent, but I'll always cherish the memories we made together, as a family," McCarty wrote. "If you could do me one huge favor and not chant "metro reject" when I come back, I would greatly appreciate it."

Metro reject is an old chant for former players in reference the club's previous name, New York/New Jersey Metrostars. The Fire visit Red Bull Arena on April 29.

The Fire open preseason training on Monday, although McCarty won't be there because he is still in camp with the national team.