Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2010
Posted: 10:56 a.m.
By John Mullin
The Bears have a Pro Bowl quarterback (whatever that means and implies, which is a topic for another time). They traded for one 20 months ago who had been to a Pro Bowl but now they actually have one.
Jay Cutler probably won't get to the All-Star game this year he'd have to vault one of Michael Vick, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers or Matt Ryan at this point and he's trailing too far in Q Factor behind those guys -- but Cutler is a "Pro Bowl quarterback" in 2010. And he is more of one now than he was when he was voted to the all-star game in 2008.
(What he needs to do, and the Bears desperately need him to do, is to lapse into the post-selection spiral that finished his 2008. More on that in a moment.)
Cutler piled up 4,526 yards and 18 touchdown passes in his Pro Bowl year, but he was in a Mike Shanahan offense that had him throw 616 passes. Of those, 18 were intercepted, a rate of 2.9 percent that is roughly comparable to the 3.1 percent he's throwing to wrong jerseys this season.
What will hold him back in the voting that's wrapping up now is those 17 TD passes. Brees has 25 (oh, and a Super Bowl ring and TV commercials). Rodgers has 23 and has the love of the national media and better track record. Ryan has 21 touchdown passes (and a cool nickname, "Matty Ice"). And Vick has 15 (and a Sports Illustrated cover story). Those are tough numbers and images to overcome in a selection process that is one-third fan recognition.
But Cutler currently has his team (and make no mistake about it; it is his play that has keyed the five-game win streak) at 9-3 and in the discussion of "NFL's best" if for no other reason than they keep winning while some of the others (like Vick and the Eagles, or the Giants, or the Chargers, or ... pick one) stumble. He also is doing what he's doing so effectively that the focus of the Bears' offense suddenly is Matt Forte, quietly adding 201 rushing yards of his own when things have broken down.
And Cutler is simply a better passer and, more important, a better quarterback than he was when he put up the eye-popping '08 numbers. He has been an offensive player of the week twice in 12 games. He is completing 63.2 percent of his passes, second only to the 63.6 he connected on in 2007. He is fifth in the NFL in yards per attempt (Vick and Rodgers are among the top four), one of the key single statistical indicators of team success.
Cutler is far and away the NFL's best at third-down completions to pick up third downs over the last five weeks.
He has a 92.8 passer rating this season, higher than any year in his career and dramatically reversing a trend that has seen his ratings begin at 88.5 as a rookie and fall to 88.1, 86.0 and 76.8.
But here's the thing ...
Most of the voting for Pro Bowls is done before the final weeks of seasons. Cutler virtually made his Pro Bowl in 2008 when his team was 8-5 and he'd posted ratings of near 95 or better in four of his previous five games; he'd had five 100-ratings in 13 games.
Then he laid three eggs with ratings below 75 in all three of those final games, throwing two TD passes vs. four INTs. His Pro Bowl billet was secured by then but that was hardly the finishing kick of a true "Pro Bowl quarterback." He wasn't.
Now he is, whether the voting says so or not. What he needs to do, though, to earn that de facto distinction for the year is to avoid a meltdown in the tradition of '08. Then the Bears will have the Pro Bowl quarterback they thought they were getting back in April 2009.
"John "Moon" Mullin is CSNChicago.com's Bears Insider, and appears regularly on Bears Postgame Live and Chicago Tribune Live. Follow Moon on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bears information.