At some point a championship team usually needs its quarterback to win a game. Not not-lose one. Win one.
The Bears got one of those from Jay Cutler on Sunday.
The final points of the Bears 23-22 win over the Carolina Panthers were scored by the defense and special teams. But the pivotal figure for the Bears on Sunday was Cutler.
His play was a major factor in the Bears falling behind 19-7. But where he once could be counted on for the poor decision -- and worse, throw -- under the pressure of deciding moments (fourth quarter, Green Bay this season) he completed 12 of 14 passes in the fourth quarter Sunday, one for a touchdown, none to Panthers.
The Bears are 25-8 in Cutler starts since the close of the 2009 season.
He was by turns visibly miffed at booing by Soldier Field fans; calm and amusing with the game in its deciding moments; arguing with officials after failing to get calls; and then a franchise quarterback.
He was horrendous for three quarters (37.6 passer rating). He fumbled twice; he was intercepted on the first possession when he underthrew an open Brandon Marshall; he was sacked six times in the first half, assuming the persona of a training-camp tackling dummy for the Carolina pass rush. If they needed extra time to get there, Cutler waited for them.
Didnt move as well as I wanted to, Cutler said. Hed even gotten second and third opinions on that. I kept asking JB QB coach Jeremy Bates and J-Cam backup quarterback Jason Campbell if I was staying in there too long or what the deal is.
Cutler appeared to wonder what the deal was with fans as he ran into the tunnel at halftime hearing boos. Looking up into the stands he muttered. Well, CSNChicago.com will leave his exact words to lip readers than ours.
Booing a 5-1 team playing at halftime is the prerogative of a free-speech society and Cutler said right things given time (advice?) to self-assess.
I mean, Id boo us, too, Cutler said. I told those guys it was a boo-worthy performance, if you will.
All that was periphery. What mattered was not only Cutlers play when the game was on the line, but also what he inspired in others.
Calm amid crisis
A famous anecdote was Joe Montana coming out for a final score-or-lose possession in a Super Bowl, and teammates recalling Montana arriving in the nervous, jittery huddle and marveling, Hey, thats John Candy over there in the stands!
Cutler didnt invoke fan sightings but he did react the right way for his own jittery teammates when he got ready for a final possession needing a score to avoid a loss.
Im sitting here shaking, a little bit of the cold weather, a little bit nervous and he just starts smiling like, Well, here we go, and just put me at ease right away, said Marshall, who caught four of the seven passes on the drive that set up Robbie Goulds winning field goal.
And the guys feel that vibe and they play off of it. So Jay definitely led that whole drive and made us pick up our game.