Commentary

Tuning out the noise

Jay Cutler quiets calls for Josh McCown by leading Bears to win after ugly start

Updated: December 15, 2013, 8:43 PM ET
By Jon Greenberg | ESPNChicago.com

CLEVELAND -- For the second time in a seven-minute interview, Brandon Marshall divvied up the blame for Jay Cutler's two interceptions.

[+] EnlargeJay Cutler
AP Photo/David RichardJay Cutler said he asked his offensive linemen last week how they felt about him regaining his starting role, and he said they didn't flinch in their loyalty.
"Like I said, the first one was on me," Marshall said after a wild 38-31 victory over the Cleveland Browns. "The second one, that was just Jay, he just sucked on that one."

Cutler was in the room at the time. If the Bears had lost, it would've been an awkward scene. But the Bears won, and the mood was light.

As he heard Marshall's honest words, Cutler gave a quick affirmative nod. The room erupted with laughter.

Confronting the Cutlerphant in the room was a message at Halas Hall all week according to named locker room sources like Cutler, Marshall and coach Marc Trestman.

"There was a lot of noise around us," Trestman said. "We addressed the team about it. The team stood strong."

On Thursday, Cutler said he was all but unaware of the national debate about who should start at quarterback. Should the Bears buck convention and stick with the red-hot Josh McCown with the playoffs on the line? Or would they follow protocol and go back to the incumbent Cutler, who was coming off a monthlong absence with an ankle injury?

Cutler is unquestionably the better quarterback in terms of skills. But McCown turned into the quarterback you can trust.

After Sunday's win, with the weight of his world lifted, Cutler said "I'd be lying" if he didn't admit he had added pressure because of how well McCown was playing. Cutler even said he approached coaches and players and asked whether they had any problem with him coming back.

Talk about a surreal turn of events for the so-called franchise savior who is now in a contract year.

"I know there are a lot of reports out there about what direction [the Bears were taking], if we were making the right decision, what we should do next year and in the future," Cutler said. "A lot of stuff swirling.

"I talked to the offensive line on maybe Tuesday and said, 'Hey, I'm good to go. I just want you guys to know I'm back and see how you guys feel about it.' They didn't flinch. They were like, 'You're our guy, we're glad to have you back,' and they played like it."

At times during McCown's monthlong stint as starter, it seemed as though everyone was trying to tamp down the excitement about McCown in order to keep the status quo. But now that it's over, Marshall told the truth. It wasn't just Cutler haters who were propagating a storyline.

"It was one of those things where the organization is in a tough position," Marshall said. "You've got Josh McCown playing lights-out and your franchise quarterback is on the side. That's a tough decision, but there's no quarterback competition. It was just tough for ourselves. We all rallied around Jay coming back. We were excited about it, and he led us in the fourth quarter."

Cutler completed 22 of 31 passes for 265 yards, throwing three touchdown passes and two interceptions. He compiled a 102.2 passer rating. On third down, he was 11-for-12 for 151 yards with two touchdowns.

One of the touchdowns was by the grace of Alshon Jeffery. One of the interceptions was in the end zone, and the other was returned for a touchdown.

It was a very Cutlery game. He "Cutlered" and he "Cutlered"!

Cutler's first interception, the one for which Marshall took the blame, came on the Bears' first drive and looked underthrown to Marshall in the end zone. Browns safety Tashaun Gipson caught the tip from the other safety, T.J. Ward. Trestman said Cutler held on to the ball too long.

The second one came in the second quarter and was a complete overthrow on a deep ball to Marshall. Gipson found himself in the right spot and returned it 44 yards for a score.

It seemed like Cutler was focusing too much on Marshall, an unwelcome theme from last season.

"I can only imagine the commentators, the fans back home, after the first and second picks, what they were saying," Marshall said. "I'm sure they were ready to hang him."

At the end of the first half, Cutler redeemed himself and hit Marshall for a 41-yard gain and, two plays later, a 5-yard touchdown pass to tie it at 10.

Thanks in part to a Martellus Bennett fumble the Browns returned for a touchdown, the Bears trailed 24-17 at the start of the fourth quarter.

On third-and-11 from the Browns' 45, Cutler had a two-man route with Jeffery going deep and Marshall running a shorter route. Cutler locked in on Jeffery but was hit as he threw. (A roughing-the-passer penalty was declined.) Gipson was in position for an easy interception but mistimed his jump. Jeffery jumped, caught the ball and twisted into the end zone. It was his third amazing touchdown in as many games.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Marshall
Nuccio DiNuzzo/Chicago Tribune/Getty ImagesBrandon Marshall was Jay Cutler's biggest supporter against calls to stay with Josh McCown, and Marshall helped prove the wisdom of the move with six catches for 95 yards and a touchdown.
"I still haven't seen it," Cutler said. "I was talking to the ref when they were replaying it, just asking about the roughing-the-passer call. My arm was hit, so I didn't think it was going to get there. I was lying on the ground like there's [interception] No. 3. Because I thought it was just going to be floating up there, 20 yards down the field. Somehow it got down there, and Alshon does what Alshon does best."

While Cutler is always the headline and the hot-button issue, the theme of his roller-coaster Bears career has been the support he's had, or hasn't had. Cutler isn't a big stats guy. He's a guy who says he cares deeply about winning but, for whatever reason, just can't win. That's the reason so many people are unsure whether he's really the franchise quarterback of the future.

But he won Sunday. He made enough plays for the Bears to win. He calmed down after a bad start. No, he wasn't close to being benched for McCown, who is Cutler's biggest cheerleader.

With two must-win games left to have a chance at the playoffs, the Bears need Cutler to cut out the turnovers, but really they need to believe that he can finally be the Cutler they can trust.

"I'm just trying to win games," he said. "That's all we're trying to do, that's what the quarterback room is about. Whoever's in there is in there. Right now I'm in there trying to play efficient football and trying to help the guys out any way I can. That's kind of where I am."

Jon Greenberg

Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com. He has lived and worked in Chicago since 2003, and is a graduate of Ohio University and the University of Chicago.

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