LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- The bright-yellow hue of Frank Zombo’s helmet flashed into Jay Cutler’s peripheral vision just as he planted to throw.
At such a pivotal point in Monday night’s game -- with the Bears down three and less than seven minutes to play -- Cutler knew this one would hurt. Still, the pain of losing to the Packers at home would pale in comparison to this pending shot from Zombo.
“That was kind of a crucial part of the game when we had to go down there and score; another challenge to the game,” Cutler said.
The quarterback overcame it by standing tall, delivering the ball, and taking Zombo’s whiplash-inducing blast to the chin -- which resulted in a 15-yard roughing-the-passer-penalty that negated an interception -- before marching the Bears down the field with a pair of completions that led to Robbie Gould’s game-tying field goal.
The demonstration further cemented Cutler’s reputation for toughness among teammates and the club’s coaching staff. The team hopes the trait yields tangible benefits as the season progresses, while not compromising the quarterback’s health.
“He’s as tough as they come,” center Olin Kreutz said. “He makes it fun to block for him because he just pops back up and continues to compete.”
Sacked eight times this season and 94 times over five years, Cutler also takes plenty of shots that don’t show up on the stat sheet. Against the Packers, Cutler absorbed six shots -- according to official statistics -- including two from Packers linebacker Clay Matthews, not to mention a gruesome facemask in the first quarter, at the end of a 10-yard scramble.
“Yes, I have come to expect Jay not blinking when he takes a shot, he’s a tough guy,” Bears coach Lovie Smith said. “We’d like to have him take [fewer] hits of course; we will keep working on that.”
Sooner or later, the club needs to succeed, because the punishment a quarterback takes in Mike Martz’s offense has been well documented since the offensive coordinator’s arrival. Offensive tackle Frank Omiyale ranked Cutler a “7 or 8” in terms of toughness, but still, the Bears understand it’s just a matter of time before the hits take a toll.
“Anytime you see him on the ground, anytime it’s your guy who puts him on the ground, you’re pissed off. But, you know, it’s going to happen. We don’t want it to happen,” Omiyale said. “As you can see, when you keep him up, he’s able to make big plays downfield.
Chicago’s sometimes leaky line isn’t something Cutler spends time obsessing over.
In fact, Cutler finds humor in some of punishment.
“Some of those, you hope the next play is a run,” Cutler said, laughing. “But it doesn’t always happen like that. Those hits are tough. You get hit in the head like that under the chin, and you know you have to get right back up. The clock is ticking. It could be third down, it could be second down, you never know.”
Standing at the podium for Wednesday’s session with the media, Cutler admitted to still feeling soreness from the barrage of shots administered by the Packers.
“Today was a rough one with some of the hits you take,” Cutler said. “It was a Monday night game, so we only had one day of recovery. That’s why we’re taking it a little easy today. That’s the thing in the NFL. You have to be able to do it for 16 weeks.”
But can he? Cutler is coming off a 2009 season in which he suffered a career-high 35 sacks. Extrapolate the eight sacks he’s already taken thus far, and Cutler appears to be on pace to endure approximately 43 sacks this season.
Martz’s offenses have averaged 577.4 passes and 47.4 sacks. But based on Cutler’s current passing pace, the Bears will throw the ball this season in the neighborhood of 485 times, which might cut down the sacks somewhat.
Not that it matters to Cutler, whose toughness can be traced back to his high school days, when he played quarterback and safety. Cutler hasn’t missed a game due to injury thus far, and in college, the quarterback started all 45 career games over four years, missing only one practice.
“I got hit a lot in college, too,” Cutler said, smiling. “So I guess it’s been happening for a while.”