Chicago Bears: Brett Favre
“It goes without saying that Jay has all the tools it takes to be a great quarterback,” Favre said. “And I think the pieces are beginning to be in place. For years their defense had just been so dominating, and it’s time for their offense to really prove their worth. I think Jay can be that guy.”
Chicago’s brass does, too, considering the organization rewarded Cutler back in January with a contract extension worth $126 million. Cutler celebrated his 31st birthday back in April, and although players’ physical skills often start to diminish after the age of 30, Favre pointed to a pair of former MVPs in making a case for the Chicago quarterback.
Asked if Cutler could become a great quarterback after the age of 30, Favre didn’t hesitate.
“Rich Gannon did it. Steve Young did it. Sure,” Favre said. “I think you become a lot wiser as you kind of lose some of your physical abilities. I think at 30 for a quarterback, really, you’re just kind of hitting your prime.”
Perhaps one component of the growing wisdom Favre anticipates from Cutler will manifest itself in decision making. In part, because of supreme confidence in his arm strength, Cutler has gained a reputation for forcing throws into tight windows, which often leads to interceptions.
Favre had the same reputation during his 20-year NFL career, and called his arm strength “a blessing and a curse.” Favre holds the NFL record for career interceptions (336).
“What I mean by that, I had an arm that I felt was as good if not better than anyone,” Favre said. “I wasn’t as fast. I wasn’t as tall. I wasn’t as smart. But I knew I could make the throws no one else could make. I would attempt throws I knew I could get away with. Would it come back to haunt me sometimes? Sure it would. But I played 20 years and sometimes it bit me in the butt. Most of the time, I got away with it. I think had my arm not been as strong, I wouldn’t have attempted those. You get away with it more times than not, but occasionally it gets you. I think that’s just the way really any player plays throughout the league; knowing your imitations, and sometimes, it gets the better of you.”
This is the story of Jay Cutler, but so far, it also sounds like the story of Brett Favre.
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Cutler shares the same agent -- Bus Cook -- as Favre, and Cutler said on "The Waddle & Silvy Show" on ESPN 1000 on Wednesday that he talked to Cook a couple of days ago.
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Our Four Downs panel weighs in on that and more:
Fact or Fiction: The Bears misjudged what they had in Hanie.
Jeff Dickerson: Fiction. The Bears knew exactly what they had in Hanie -- a quarterback light on experience who has the ability to make plays, but has also shown a tendency to turn the ball over. Obviously Hanie must perform better Sunday in Denver, but it would be nice if the rest of the offense helped him out. Don't forget that if a seven-year veteran running back (Marion Barber) knew how to line up properly or if an eight-year veteran wide receiver (Roy Williams) would have caught a perfectly thrown ball in front of the end zone, the Bears beat the Chiefs, despite pass protection issues up front. The Bears continue to believe they can win games with Hanie at quarterback, otherwise Lovie Smith would have made a switch this week.
Michael C. Wright: Fiction. The Bears used the only measuring they could in judging Hanie’s potential to fill in for Jay Cutler, and that was his practice performances over the years and how he played last season in the NFC title game. Going off those criteria, the Bears didn’t expect Hanie to be the team’s savior. But they certainly expected to him to get the club a few victories with Cutler out. I haven’t yet given up on Hanie because I believe he’s got it in him physically to lead this team where it needs to go. Now it’s just a matter of doing it. Hanie has put together two horrid performances so far. After three it’s no longer aberration. It becomes your body of work. So hopefully, Hanie makes me look smart this week.
Melissa Isaacson Fiction. According to Smith, the Bears knew exactly what they have in Hanie, and they are satisfied that he is a better alternative than anyone else on the market. Although I thought Hanie would look better than he did in the loss to the Chiefs, I don’t necessarily disagree. And while last year’s NFC Championship game is probably not a fair gauge of Hanie’s true ability, it obviously showed enough, along with his work with the scout team, to tell them he is an adequate No. 2. This is a tough test for any backup, and while Hanie has not been impressive, I believe the Bears thought that with support, he would be enough to get them to 10 wins.
Jon Greenberg: Fiction. I think Mike Martz was pretty sure what he had in Hanie. He’s an undrafted free agent playing behind a pretty durable quarterback (these last two injuries notwithstanding). There aren’t a lot of really good backup quarterbacks out there, and Hanie benefited from, well, already being here. It’s not for nothing the Bears have drafted quarterbacks the last two drafts.
Fact or Fiction: Josh McCown is still a better fit as a backup for the Bears at this point than Brett Favre or Donovan McNabb.
Jeff Dickerson: Fiction. Forget about Brett Favre. Even though the future Hall of Famer had been sniffing around the Bears quarterback situation the past two weeks, he was never seriously considered. However, I can make a strong argument the Bears depth chart against the Broncos should read: 1. Hanie 2. McNabb 3. McCown. I hope Nathan Enderle turns out to be an excellent NFL quarterback, but after dropping two straight, the Bears simply can't afford to turn the offense over to a rookie. McCown has value because of the experience factor and familiarity with the Martz system. But if Hanie ever got hurt, McNabb would be the best choice to step in and finish out a game, regardless of the fact he spent his career in a West Coast offense. He's Donovan McNabb. He can run 10-15 plays in an emergency appearance in his sleep.
Michael C. Wright: Fiction. This comes off like we’re bashing McCown, but that’s really not the case here. Ultimately at some point it comes down to the players more than systems or their familiarity in those systems. Much is made of McCown’s experience in Martz’s system. But how much experience did McCown actually gain? McCown worked just one year under Martz (2006), and actually caught more passes (2) as the third receiver than he threw (0) as a quarterback. So in my estimation, that doesn’t give McCown much of a leg up on Favre or McNabb in Martz’s scheme, which moves us to the next tie breaker: big-game experience. Favre has seen it all and done it, but may be washed up at 42 years old. McNabb, meanwhile, has also participated in several big games. Regardless of McNabb and Favre’s lack of familiarity in Martz’s system, I’d rather go down with them than McCown if my playoff life is on the line.
Melissa Isaacson: Fiction. The fact that Smith still considers Enderle to be the Bears’ No. 2 quarterback, ahead of McCown, is not exactly a ringing endorsement for McCown, even after just two weeks on the roster. An emergency signing is just that and should be able to come in with minimal preparation and manage the team well enough to win. That is not to say McNabb (Favre is a flier in every sense of the word) would march the Bears to the Super Bowl, but his experience and professionalism alone makes him worthy of at least the No. 2 role.
Jon Greenberg: Fiction. I know both quarterbacks would be a major PR hassle for the team, and possibly one of those dreaded “distractions,” but either of those guys, even at their current stages of decay, could fake their way through Martz’s offense better than McCown. I know I’m in the minority here, but I’d like to see this ship really hit a iceberg, rather than sink quietly in the sea.
Fact or Fiction: Matt Forte will play again this season.
Jeff Dickerson: Fact. This type of MCL sprain usually takes four weeks to heal. However, the Bears don't have that kind of time, so I expect Forte to return to action well before the knee is 100 percent. Extension or no extension, Forte wants to keep playing and will do whatever rehab is necessary to be active in a few weeks. I can't guarantee Forte is going to play well with a sprained knee, but I'd be surprised if he didn't at least give it a try against Green Bay or Minnesota.
Michael C. Wright: Fact. But I think that’s contingent upon the Bears winning their next two games against the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks. If the Bears fall out of the playoff hunt, then you have to question what incentive Forte has to return. Forte suffered a similar injury in 2009 and played through it, only to undergo arthroscopic surgery -- according to the Chicago Tribune -- at the conclusion of the season. Forte certainly won’t let his contract situation affect his decision making about returning from the injury. But if the team is out of contention, why lay it on the line for the team when in the offseason it could turn around and use the knee injury to devalue you?
Melissa Isaacson: Fact. Tough one to guess unless you are actually inside Forte’s head (and knee). But if he recovers quickly from a Grade 2 sprain and the Bears can still use his help, the latter of which is likely, I think he could return for the last game against Minnesota, if not sooner. If he is not risking serious injury -- which does not seem to be the case -- he’ll be back.
Jon Greenberg: Fact. I believe Forte will rejoin the team in Green Bay on Christmas Day. If he was the recalcitrant sort, he would have held out in training camp. Forte is a gamer, and he wouldn’t let down his teammates. He will do two weeks of rehab for his sprained MCL and then try to give the Bears a little help for their final two games.
Fact or Fiction: Martz will not be back next season.
Jeff Dickerson: Fact. Why else would Martz's name begin to surface for job openings at UCLA, Arizona State or the Jacksonville Jaguars? It's not like he's done a smashing job calling plays for the Bears the last two years. By allowing his name to be floated out there, Martz is likely preparing himself for the next stage of his career. Make no mistake about it, Smith is loyal to his friends and has control over the coaching staff. But this scenario is a tad different because Martz's contract expires following the season. That makes parting with the veteran coach much easier.
Michael C. Wright: Fiction. Martz’s name has been linked to seemingly every coaching vacancy out there, but something about it all seems manufactured, which is something that often takes place at this time of year. Martz’s offenses with the Bears haven’t ranked in the top half of the league in two years. So what makes him such a hot coaching commodity that someone would want to bring him in as a head coach? Smith called the rumors “made up” on Monday, and has intimated that he’ll look to bring back his entire coaching staff -- if they’re not poached by other NFL teams or colleges -- for 2012. The Bears don’t want to put Cutler in a situation where he’d be forced to learn his third offense in four years, and the quarterback even expressed reservations about being thrust again in such a scenario. So although Martz’s contract expires at the end of the season, I see the Bears making an effort to bring him back. Besides that, there might not be many options out there for Martz, regardless of what’s being said.
Melissa Isaacson: Fact. It seems an odd fit to picture Martz as a head coach of a major college program at this stage of the game. But it would be even odder for the Bears to make a strong contract offer to have Martz back after two years of tension and uneven results on offense. Even Cutler made it sound like he’d be OK with Martz moving on and if Mike Tice steps up, which would be more in line with Smith’s vision, it wouldn’t have to be a difficult transition.
Jon Greenberg: Fact. Martz’s contract is up and the offense has never really coalesced, has it? In fact, the Bears’ offensive troubles are even more frustrating, given the presence of Cutler and Forte, before now anyway. Sure he’s only had two years to instill his byzantine system, and the so-called mad scientist has been given a second-hand laboratory, but the fit isn’t quite there. Where do you think all those college coaching interest leaks are coming from? I think everyone is pretty aware this is Martz’s last stand. I’m on the Norv Turner bandwagon, once he gets fired from San Diego. It’ll be Norvember four to five months a year!
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- The Bears' best game of the season came with some good news the next morning. Receiver/kick returner Devin Hester, who scored a pair of touchdowns before leaving with an unspecified chest injury, is not expected to miss extended time. Hester's 98-yard kickoff return was the 17th overall return for a touchdown in his career, pulling him into Hall of Fame company. He is tied with Hall of Fame cornerback/safety Rod Woodson for the second-most overall returns in NFL history. Only Deion Sanders (19) has more.
- As you probably know by now, safety Chris Harris has asked for a trade by Tuesday's NFL trade deadline after being a healthy scratch in Sunday night's game. Harris confirmed the news during an interview with ESPN 1000, and agent Albert Elias has been empowered to seek a trade partner. I suppose it's possible the Bears have suddenly decided that Harris can't play anymore. I don't think that's the case quite yet. But regardless, given how often they change their starters at safety, the Bears would be silly to part ways with Harris. Assuming he remains with the team, the law of averages suggests Harris will be back on the field sooner than later. It's doubtful that either Major Wright or Chris Conte will be removed from the lineup after a victory, but injuries and other factors could arise on a weekly basis.
- This will be the oddest week of the Bears' season. They'll practice at Halas Hall on Wednesday and Thursday, and then leave Thursday evening for London, where they will play the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday. There are no perfect ways to handle the travel portion of this game, but in essence they have an overnight flight that puts them into London by Friday morning. They'll have about 60 hours to adjust before kickoff. In a different approach, the Bucs took off Monday and will spend the week in unfamiliar surroundings. It's a tough road regardless of when the trip is timed.
The feeling throughout last week was that defensive end Julius Peppers would play despite a sprained knee suffered Oct. 10. That theory seemed shot when the Bears listed him as doubtful on the final injury report. But in the end, Peppers played, started and had two sacks. Did the Bears manipulate the injury report to their advantage? "Doubtful" technically means a player has a 25 percent chance to be available. So even though it usually means a player will be out, a team can justify it without explanation if one out of every four doubtful players ends up in uniform. I suppose it's possible the Bears were upset that the Vikings reversed course last season after declaring quarterback Brett Favre out for the teams' December 2010 matchup, but "retaliating" in this instance seems like more trouble than it's worth. The Bears might have preferred to keep the Vikings guessing, but it's hard to imagine them being petty enough to let what happened last season influence their classification of Peppers' injury.
- A series of injuries made it difficult to judge the Bears in several areas Sunday. At the top of the list was the offensive line, where the Bears finished with an entirely different right side. Chris Spencer was at right guard for Lance Louis and Frank Omiyale had replaced right tackle Gabe Carimi, who departed with a knee injury. Five of the Saints' six sacks came in the fourth quarter, and five of them also came when the Saints pinned back their ears and sent at least six pass-rushers. It's hard to come down too hard when a line featuring two injury replacements is overwhelmed by a pass rush that, because of the game situation, can disregard the running game and come after the quarterback.
- The Bears' secondary was also in shambles by the final whistle, with both starting safeties on the sideline. Chris Harris (hamstring) was inactive and Major Wright departed because of a concussion, but only after missing a tackle on Devery Henderson's 84-yard touchdown reception. So it's no surprise that the Bears' nickel and dime defense struggled Sunday. Saints quarterback Drew Brees completed 13 of 18 passes for 170 yards and two touchdowns on 19 plays in which the Bears had at least five defensive backs on the field, according to ESPN Stats & Information. But independent of having backup safeties in the game, the Bears also were unable to get much pressure from their defensive line in those situations. Those 19 plays included but one sack.
- The Bears were too reliant on tailback Matt Forte. He took 10 of the 11 carries by running backs and was targeted on a team-high 14 of Jay Cutler's 45 passing attempts. He caught 10 for 117 yards. I realize the Saints' pass rush probably had something to do with it, as did the chest injury to receiver Earl Bennett, but the Bears weren't able to get downfield at all Sunday. Receivers Devin Hester and Johnny Knox caught a combined three of the 15 passes Cutler threw in their direction. This season, Forte has touched the ball or been the intended target on nearly 40 percent of the Bears' plays. That's great for Forte, who is seeking a contract extension. But it makes things too easy on opposing defenses.
I never understood exactly how linebacker Brian Urlacher was expected to erupt for the game of his life Sunday, a day after attending the funeral of his mother. No matter how motivated or emotionally raw Urlacher might have been at kickoff, a middle linebacker can't simply will himself to a rare performance in the way, say, Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Favre did after his father died in 2003. We've all seen Urlacher have monster games, but anyone in his position needs a confluence of favorable factors to produce a 20-tackle game. It was unrealistic to expect Urlacher to start throwing fellow NFL players around in a made-for-Hollywood storyline.
Wootton's second-quarter hit knocked Minnesota quarterback Brett Favre out of the game with a head injury, and changed the complexion of the game for the rest of the evening.
"We had a pass rush stunt and I just came around the edge and was able to get by Bryant McKinnie," the Bears rookie defensive end said. "I was able to get the sack and throw him to the ground, and I looked up and saw he was down. I didn't know [he was hurt] until I looked back. I didn't even know the ball came out, people were telling me it was a fumble.”
Wootton, a 2010 fourth-round draft choice out of Northwestern, has only been active four games the entire year.
"[Wootton] did a great job and we got pretty good depth on the line," fellow defensive end Julius Peppers said. "When guys get opportunities, guys make plays. That was huge for him, for his confidence, and we're going to need him at some point down the road. That was a great thing to happen for him tonight."