The stream of positives that flowed around Jay Cutler through almost this entire season made Thursday’s conclusion of a seven-year contract with the veteran quarterback an all but done deal since early last offseason.
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Sometimes it was the little things; Cutler joined center Roberto Garza as offensive co-captain, not by coaches’ appointment, but by a players vote. More often it was the bigger things, as Cutler took to the coaching of Marc Trestman, Aaron Kromer and Matt Cavanaugh as he never had to any staff since his trade to the Bears in 2009.
It wasn’t so much any specific; it was more in the tones of voice from those coaches, who know the position and were clearly pleased with what they were coming to know in Cutler, on or off any record.
It was in Cutler’s quicker release that cut down on sacks and interceptions in the process. It was in his whole demeanor, not any facial expression, but in the things he said were now important.
“If we look back 20 years from now,” Cutler said on Thursday, “and say, ‘Hey, I was here 12 years and we didn’t win a championship’, we’re gonna be disappointed, I’m gonna be disappointed by it and I think the rest of the organization is gonna be disappointed. So that’s what we have to start working towards starting tomorrow. I know the coaches will, I will and the rest of the players will.”
Better than the Pro Bowl Jay
Cutler is not the same quarterback he was coming out of Denver as a Pro Bowl selection. He’s better.
He began last offseason to have private get-togethers with receivers away from Halas Hall, talking over concepts and specifics. During the season, he spoke out supporting embattled defensive coordinator Mel Tucker. More than a few players noted that Cutler was at Halas Hall before anyone else, 5 a.m. sometimes, studying.
All of that was reflected in his play, which was statistically better this year than any of his previous seven, all the more interesting because it happened in the first year of a new system with his fourth offensive staff in five Chicago seasons.
Cutler became better under pressure when it mattered. He put up impressive fourth-quarter passing numbers last season but this year those statistics turned into three game-winning drives in the fourth quarter – significant in that Cutler only played in nine full fourth quarters because of injuries.
The last of those comebacks was at Cleveland, a signature performance in the eyes of Emery for what he wanted to see in a true franchise quarterback.
“The calmness that he’s displaying, to me, is different, the calmness of his approach,” Emery said. After the win at Cleveland Emery was fascinated by Cutler’s demeanor and the sense that his quarterback was in truly in place.
“I think he finally felt the weight off his shoulders that he showed everybody that he is ultimately a great competitor that can win even when the chips are down and even when he’s a part of those chips being down in terms of the early picks that happened,” Emery said. “He took accountability for it and he kept fighting for his teammates that kept fighting and found a way to win…Being able to bounce back, being able to, from a physical aspect, throw a ball 45 yards in the air, being hit in two different directions, being on his back foot and receiver Alshon [Jeffery] came up with a catch, but the ball was in a place where he could come up with a catch. So from a physical standpoint, a toughness standpoint, emotional calmness, his ability to win a tight game and to bounce back from adversity, to me, that game summed it up.”
The Bears reached agreement on a new contract with kicker Robbie Gould in a matter of days. With Cutler, it was more of the same hurry-up, a call to Cutler agent Bus Cook on Monday and a seven-year deal done by Thursday.
A point Emery made even before the 2013 campaign started was that Cutler won games. The Bears were a 9- to 10-win team with Cutler before adding the talent that has come on the offensive line and elsewhere.
In 67 regular season starts with the franchise, Cutler has directed the Bears to a 39-28 (.582) record, including 13 games in which he led a game-winning drive in the fourth quarter or overtime. He has added 811 yards and three touchdowns on the ground in 172 attempts with Chicago (4.7 ypc).
In 2013, Cutler’s 63.1-percent completion percentage was second-highest in franchise history. He completed 224-of-355 pass attempts for 2,621 yards, 19 touchdowns and 12 interceptions in 11 games played. His 89.2 passer rating was a career-high and sixth highest in franchise history.
But the biggest improvements arguably came in a different team culture. Marc Trestman devoted time and energy to intangibles, and Cutler’s were some of the most improved.
“I think the organization and Marc, they allow that type of growth as people and players,” Cutler said. “We come in each and every day and it’s not just about football. It’s about the guys in that room. He always says, ‘This is a people business; it’s not a football business.’”