Vick, Cutler storylines run deep
Monday night's starting signal-callers have faced plenty of criticism
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Michael Vick had his best game of the 2011 season this past Sunday night, leading the Philadelphia Eagles to a dominating 34-7 win over the Dallas Cowboys. As a fellow quarterback, Jay Cutler must have some appreciation of how the Eagles' offense, led by Vick and running back LeSean McCoy, destroyed the Cowboys, right?
"I haven't watched them," he said. "I haven't seen them. I'm worried about their defense and what they do."
While a lot of the Chicago Bears are football junkies, it's not surprising that Cutler had other things going on during his bye week Sunday. Have you seen his (on-again) girlfriend?
"Brian and Lance and those guys, Pep, I think they've got a good feel against this offense going against them last year and in previous year," Cutler said. "I'm optimistic we'll be able to slow them down."
Vick said he hasn't seen much of Cutler either.
"From what I've seen," Vick said, evenly, "he's played pretty well."
I'm of the same mindset as these two.
When the Bears and Eagles face off on "Monday Night Football," you can bet the two quarterbacks will be featured players, and their personal narratives will be a discussion topic throughout the show.
Vick, of course, is infamous for his role in a dogfighting ring and the downward spiral of his life that ensued. Even before his legal troubles, fans and pundits were split on whether or not he could ever be a consistently dominant quarterback. Last year in Philadelphia all but erased both of those storylines.
Cutler's prickly nature and scattershot start to his Bears career exploded into a national water cooler moment in last season's NFC Championship Game.
It's not hard to understand why Vick is beloved by NFL players and Cutler is not. But I think any young star quarterback, from high school to the NFL, should study the career arcs of both guys.
"It's a different kind of star power, but they're both the same type of player," Bears defensive back D.J. Moore said. "There's always been a lot of controversy for Vick for a whole lot of stuff, like not being a pocket-passer. Now no one [is saying] he can't be a pocket-passer. They were saying Jay is making too many mistakes. Both of them are evolving into great quarterbacks."
Roy Williams reinforced what most players in the NFL think about Vick.
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"I mean, I'd take him on my team, dogfighting or not, I don't care," Williams said. "That's over with. He's down-set-hut and making plays. That's one thing Philly did, and they cashed on it and they got a great steal."
Moore added that both quarterbacks possess the ultimate intangible: confidence. Vick radiates it, and while Cutler's glum appearance belies it to some, his swagger is unmistakable. Aside from late play calls and missed routes, nothing else seems to bother this guy.
"Cutler is probably a little more confident than me, and that's hard to say," said Moore, hardly a wallflower himself. "He can make all the throws, just matter of throwing it. Your quarterback has gotta be confident. There's no room for 'My quarterback's not confident.' That's never good."
Vick's sophomore season as the Eagles' starting quarterback has gone pretty well, aside from a four-interception game in a loss to the Buffalo Bills. Vick has completed 63.2 percent of his passes for 1,852 yards and 11 touchdowns this season. He has run for an eye-popping 422 yards (8.1 yards per carry). But he has also thrown eight interceptions and fumbled twice. Half of those turnovers have resulted in touchdowns.
Vick has been aided by a strong cast of receivers. McCoy (754 rushing yards and 10 combined touchdowns), like Matt Forte for the Bears, is probably the MVP of this team.
"Vick is playing great right now, but I think his outside weapons are playing better and making him play the way he's playing," Williams said. "When you can hand the ball off and average 5 yards a carry, that's big time."
Brian, Lance, Pep and the gang have had success containing Vick, or at least his team. He's 0-3 lifetime as a starter against the Bears. In their meeting last season, a defining 31-26 win that pushed Chicago to 8-3 and into national prominence on their way to the NFC title game, Vick went 29-for-44 for 333 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. The red-zone pick came in the second quarter off a tip by Tommie Harris and went to Chris Harris, so fat chance of that happening again.
After Harris' interception return, Cutler got the ball at his own 37 and marched the Bears to a touchdown and a 21-13 lead. Overall, the Bears held Vick to 4-for-13 on third down and 1-for-5 in the red zone with goal-to-go.
"They did a real good job in all three areas, third down, red zone and further first and second downs," Vick said in a conference call with reporters. "They just made it kind of difficult for us. We got off to a rough start in the beginning, and we were able to pick it up in the second and third quarters. We just didn't finish in the fourth and that hurt us."
Before the game, even the local reporters quizzed the Bears on Philadelphia as though they had no chance against the vaunted Vick offense. That started again Thursday at Halas Hall. I was probably one of the biggest culprits.
"We understand where you're coming from," Moore said. "When you look at them, it's tough to say you can stop them from running, but then you got to stop them from passing, then you got to stop [Vick] from running."
Asked if he watched the Eagles-Cowboys game live, Moore said yes, but perhaps he was thinking of last season's blowout win over Washington, which was two weeks before Philadelphia came to Soldier Field.
"It was touchdown, touchdown, touchdown," he said. "I fell asleep, but then I woke up and there were some more touchdowns."
Vick hopes to bottle that momentum with a third straight win. With a victory, the Eagles move to 4-4 and flush in the race for the NFC East crown.
"I think a win this week would definitely catapult us into a position where we can start to see the sun shining again," Vick said.
At 4-3, the Bears need this win just as badly. A post-bye, national-TV win over the Eagles would do wonders for Cutler and the Bears' Q-rating. With the lights on in Philadelphia, there is nowhere for Vick and Cutler to hide. Which one will shine?
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.
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