It was arguably one of the more misleading numbers of the 2012 Bears season. But it now may be leading the Bears somewhere important, somewhere they have rarely been with Jay Cutler as their quarterback.
Cutler led the NFL in fourth-quarter passing last season with a rating of 114.7 – ahead of Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning, Joe Flacco, Russell Wilson, Colin Kaepernick, Tom Brady, Matt Ryan and Andy Dalton. The difference was that their teams were in the playoffs and Cutler’s was not.
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The Cutler number was suspect because the Bears led the likes of Jacksonville, Tennessee, St. Louis and other also-rans comfortably in fourth quarters when defenses knew the Bears were running the football. Indeed, Cutler had fewer fourth-quarter attempts than all of the other Top 15 fourth-quarter passers with the exception of Kaepernick.
More significantly, Cutler was not bringing the Bears back with his apparent late-game excellence. The Bears were 5-22 when trailing after three quarters through Cutler’s first four Bears seasons.
Now they are 6-22, with a fourth-quarter comeback against one of the better defenses in the NFL behind Cutler posting a passer rating of 116.7 against the Cincinnati Bengals. That figure includes an interception, the biggest statistical drag in the formula for passer rating.
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Tight end Martellus Bennett played last season with Eli Manning, whose fourth-quarter play is regularly among the NFL’s best. Manning had eight fourth-quarter comebacks/game-winning drives in the New York Giants’ 2011 Super Bowl season, six in the 2007 Super Bowl season and three even last season for a relative “down” year for him. That still represented more fourth-quarter comebacks than Cutler had the previous two seasons combine.
Bennett was impressed by what he saw last Sunday with Cutler performing with the game on the line.
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“The thing that Jay did where I see similarities with Eli, as far as personality, is that he was calm the whole time,” Bennett told CSNChicago.com. “He was telling us, ‘Hey, we got this,’ or ‘This is the situation, this is what we need,’ directing guys around, pointing out little things, like, ‘OK, we only need one yard on this play so make sure you get on your blocks and don’t hold.’
“He was going over all the things, knowing what we had to do, stepping up in the pocket, knowing we had to have completions.”
But it also was the type of completions. Bennett referenced a fourth-quarter pass to him where the potential was for yards after the catch with a more aggressive throw, but where Cutler intentionally threw safer to ensure picking up the first down.
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Little things were part of the Cutler quarter. Players noted that he kept the team in the huddle a little longer by design, for instance, so that he was able to have the ball snapped with two seconds remaining on the play clock “but guys weren’t having to sit their in their three-point stance any longer than really necessary,” Bennett said.
“Just directing and communicating, Jay was tuned in to the big picture.”