We learned everything we needed to know Tuesday about Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler. During an appearance on ESPN 1000, Cutler was asked if there was one throw he wished he could take back from his disastrous performance in last Thursday's 23-10 loss to the Green Bay Packers. Cutler's response revealed a capacity for compartmentalizing that should be the envy of anyone with aspirations for emotional and social detachment.
After pausing for a moment, Cutler chose a pass that receiver Brandon Marshall dropped in the end zone early in the third quarter as the Bears trailed 13-0.
"I wish I had that one back," Cutler said. "The picks? You can have those. The one I would take back was the one to Brandon off his hands. … I put it up probably just a half count quicker than I wanted to. Felt a little bit of pressure and put it up. 'B' will tell you it was a catchable ball. But I could have made it 10 times easier for him, just putting it up a little to the left and holding him up a little bit. He crushed the guy on his route, and that could have made it easier on him. … That could have changed the complexion of the game."
The picks? You can have those.
Here you have a quarterback who turned in one of the worst performances in the past 10 years of NFL play, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, glossing over his four interceptions as if they were merely a function of the game flow. Instead, Cutler suggested his biggest regret was not fine-tuning a still-catchable touchdown pass that would have still left the Bears facing a second-half deficit.
Tuesday was Cutler's first public appearance since a postgame interview Thursday night, and to me it confirmed a remarkable world view that aligns independently from ordinary human nature. Cutler can toss aside a four-interception, seven-sack performance and self-criticize a nuanced improvement to a play he had already done his job on. He can suggest that "your opinion does not matter to us" when it's negative or critical, as he did Tuesday, but claim "it really meant a lot" when several fans approached him over the weekend to offer encouragement.
And, perhaps most amazing of all, Cutler can insist with an apparently straight face that he did not lose his composure at any point during what sure appeared to be a wild, but not atypical performance. That assessment apparently covered his sideline confrontation with left tackle J'Marcus Webb. Indeed, Cutler repeatedly blamed the media for escalating the issue "bigger than all of us expected" and adding: "That's what you have to expect from the media."
Cutler added: "Oh, I think I had my composure. I think I had my composure the whole game. Under the circumstances, we moved the ball well at times. Obviously some mistakes on my part and other guys derailed us at times. Penalties, interceptions, stuff like that. But I had my composure. I knew what I was doing. We were calling the plays and everything was going smoothly."
If what we saw Thursday night was composed, I would hate to see Cutler when he is upset.
Let's be clear. As we discussed last week, I was far less concerned with the Cutler-Webb issue than with the way Cutler's emotions appeared to impact his play. (For the record, Cutler acknowledged he shouldn't have bumped Webb during the discussion but said he doesn't regret screaming at him. He also said he has spoken with the Bears' "powers that be" and the offensive line individually and that everything is "behind us." He wouldn't say if he apologized to Webb.)
Cutler aggressively fought back Tuesday against suggestions that anyone "on the outside" could know definitively what was happening on the field or during the Bears' offensive decision-making process. But it's hard for me to conclude that Cutler was under control after watching the way he frenetically bounced around the pocket, how he repeatedly threw into coverage and how he unloaded on Webb so quickly in a long season. It seemed he was playing "screw-it" football, so frustrated with how things were going that he compounded the situation with poor throws and technique.
In truth, the alternative is worse. If Cutler was composed and under control, as he said he was, and still threw four interceptions and took seven sacks -- the first time a quarterback had done so in 10 years of NFL games -- isn't that a worse indictment of his performance?
Regardless, if we didn't know before, we know now: Packers defensive back Charles Woodson was right to note that he saw the "same-old Jay" Thursday night. Based on what I heard Tuesday, the Jay Cutler we have always seen is the one we always will see -- for both the good and the bad.
He can make exemplary throws with his arm and extraordinary leaps in his mind. He can convince himself that a perfect throw can overcome a series of mistakes and that his negatives are exaggerated by the media. And he will fail to recognize the impact of his emotions on the way he plays. It's gotten him this far, after all, and if you entered this season hoping for a different approach, well, you were out of your mind.