The Bears could not have scripted a better pop quiz for Jay Cutler to assess his mettle as their franchise quarterback in 2014 and beyond. Because some statistics can be misleading, and one in particular with Cutler falls under that cloud.
Cutler is a career 6-1 in games following ones in which he has thrown three interceptions, as he did in Detroit last Sunday. “Hopefully it’s 7-1, not 6-2 coming up,” Cutler said, without offering a reason for his rebound performances. “No. Nothing really that I can think of specifically.”
Specifically, however, some of the reason may lie in simply playing bad teams in “rebound” games. This become potentially significant since the New Orleans Saints (4-0) are anything but bad.
Of the six Cutler rebound wins, two were against Cleveland Brown teams that won four and five games in those seasons and a third was against a four-win Buffalo Bills team. A fourth was over the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2009 as the Steelers were beginning their post-Super Bowl hangover that would have them miss the playoffs.
And a fifth was over the St. Louis Rams last season, a 7-9-1 non-playoff team that held Cutler to a 58.9 passer rating but saw the Bears sack Sam Bradford six times, intercept him twice and Major Wright take one of those picks 45 yards for a touchdown.
The sixth and most impressive win was over the Minnesota Favres as the Vikings were finishing as the 2009 NFC North champions.
The one loss was to a Philadelphia Eagles team on its way to a wild-card berth.
Cutler’s physical resilience has never been a question, nor his durability, for that matter. He missed a game in each of 2010 and 2012 with a concussion, the last six games of 2011 with a thumb injury, and tried to play through a knee sprain in the 2010 NFC Championship.
His performance resilience is still to be determined, and the Saints will serve as a solid test kitchen for evaluating that. The Saints are No. 6 in yardage allowed and fifth in both points and passing yards allowed.
If Cutler’s mindset has been questioned at times by insiders and outsiders, indications have grown that he has recognized his own culpability for catastrophes. After his debacle in Detroit, that was a critical starting point in preparing for something better against New Orleans.
“Sometimes it’s hard to walk back in that locker room and know that, ‘Hey, I was responsible for four turnovers’ and you put your team in that position,” Cutler said. “It makes you feel bad, because I thought the defense played their butt off. [The] offensive line did a great job. It just brings everything into perspective of how important it is, how important my job is of taking care of the ball and making sure that I put ourselves in a position to win each week.”
Cutler is a virtual lock to be on the receiving end of play calls from Marc Trestman, Aaron Kromer and Matt Cavanaugh next season. The Bears have made note of the team’s 30-14 regular-season record in his starts, particularly since 2009, and there is no succession plan, or planned.
But while Cutler has established, with the help of an elite defense before this season, that he can win, he has failed to establish long-term and even some shorter-term consistency. What he is tasked with now clarifying in absolute terms is whether he is a mid-level quarterback who has occasional spasms of excellence (three straight 90-plus passer ratings this season), or a very good quarterback who has occasional bad games (like Detroit).
Rebounding “starts with just going back to fundamentals every week in practice,” Trestman said, “and making sure you feel secure in your fundamentals and certainly it’s the mental preparation of just focusing on the game plan and executing the plays and not trying to make something right when something went wrong the week before.
“We’re dealing at this place with a veteran like Jay, got to have the emotional stability to come back and put the past behind you and you’ve got to go back to work and play the game in the new week like it’s the first game.”