Commentary

It's tough to believe in Jay Cutler

As much as we want to, we still can't count on the inconsistent Bears QB

Originally Published: September 20, 2012
By Jon Greenberg | ESPNChicago.com

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Wearing a T-shirt that read "God is Awesome," Chicago Bears wide receiver Brandon Marshall was preaching from the pulpit Wednesday. His sermon was clear: Jay Cutler is no false idol.

"What people need to understand is everyone's different," Marshall said Wednesday during his entertaining media session at Halas Hall. "Jay is who he is. Whenever you get outside of yourself, I think that's when you create problems. You have to be who you are. So when Jay is not fiery, that's when I'm gonna have a problem. I'm gonna want to play with a different quarterback."

[+] EnlargeJay Cutler
AP Photo/David StlukaBears players should know by now that Jay Cutler does not have a warm and cuddly personality.

Cutler's always-teetering reputation as a petulant, underachieving whiner was reinforced on Thursday in a 23-10 loss to the Green Bay Packers when he threw four interceptions and bumped his underachieving left tackle, J'Marcus Webb, while screaming at him on the sidelines.

A vengeful Cutler is a familiar Cutler, but not always a successful one.

What people didn't see, Marshall said, was Cutler yelling at him and pumping him up earlier in the game. The leader making the rounds.

"Well, if you go back earlier in the game, you'll see him yell at me," Marshall said. "That's just Jay. Like I said, as long as we're communicating the right way and being productive. A lot of people say, 'Yeah, he tapped you on the head.' No, Jay got in my ear a little bit, too, and he got me going. I think Jay is learning how to communicate with different guys."

Considering Marshall was an afterthought for most of the game, a week after being targeted 15 times, Cutler's pep talk didn't do much good.

Cutler has never been one for successful public relations, but he might want to hire Marshall to be his spin man.

Marshall said people might have a negative perception of Cutler: "Cause of the way he approaches the game. It's different than Tom Brady, it's different than Peyton Manning. Even in our personal life, when I go out with Jay, Jay doesn't love the attention. He doesn't. He doesn't want to be the guy up front. He just wants to come to work and do his job. He really loves this game."

Here lies the problem with Cutler when it comes to perception and performance. In a football town where the Bears are like a religion, the fans want to believe in Cutler. They are desperate after years of quarterback futility.

But the perception of Cutler in the world of the National Football League is not good. He has his defenders, sure, and even his detractors are respectful of his talent. But his persona is a turnoff and it's easier to talk about what's in front of you, his grimace, than to break down the complicated X's and O's of an NFL game.

Because for sure, when the offense struggles, it's not all Cutler's fault. He makes his share of mistakes, but there is so much that goes into a busted play. Webb has to be on the bubble, left guard Chris Spencer was replaced by Chilo Rachal, and offensive coordinator Mike Tice is in his first season on the job.

It's not unfair to link Cutler's personality to his performance. It's certainly a part of his overall package. An ex-teammate of Cutler's from Denver recently suggested to me that if a lineman doesn't respect Cutler, he might not be so inclined to give his everything to block for him or even subconsciously hope for a reckoning.

That makes sense, but in this case, I don't agree. By now, these players know Cutler has a short fuse. He's not a warm and cuddly personality.

After his first week, I wrote about a confident Cutler being a changed Cutler and his cockiness is a good thing. I still believe that. But we saw in Green Bay what happens when that confidence is shattered, even if it's just for one game. Cutler can make a bad game look like the end of the world.

During his one-hour weekly ESPN 1000 radio show with "Waddle & Silvy" on Tuesday, Cutler denied he lost his composure during the Green Bay game, even bizarrely saying he was "actually proud of that game." Marshall was asked if Cutler got rattled, and he did an expert dance around the obvious.

"Well you have to ask him that, but like I said, that's the guy I want to play for," Marshall said. "In this game you have to make a lot of off-schedule plays, and he's the type of guy that can do that. It's never going to work the way it's drawn up, and he's the type of quarterback that can make plays in any given situation.

"I think this is what makes this Chicago market great. I'm learning a lot about you guys. I mean it's Week 2 and we're talking about drafting another quarterback or something. I love this market already."

Brandon, it's reciprocal. So far, the Chicago market loves you, too, but let's relax on the media criticism. No one is saying the Bears should draft a quarterback, especially with an aging defense and a slapdash line. And we didn't throw four picks and have a meltdown on national TV. The media isn't 1-6 as a starting quarterback against the Packers. In fact, Cutler gets a lot more leeway in Chicago than he does nationally, especially among ex-players.

I would bet Cutler has a bounce-back game against the St. Louis Rams because that's how things work in his world. He's the Six Flags of Soldier Field, a human roller coaster. He'll struggle in Dallas, dominate in Jacksonville.

After his Week 1 performance, I saw a pretty good quarterback benefit from his receivers, like Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, the big targets he has needed from the beginning. Remember, Cutler started out 1-for-10 in that game before finally clicking. Those guys, not to mention Matt Forte (if his ankle is healed) and Michael Bush, will make Cutler look better. They will smooth the edges. And Cutler, with weapons, should prosper.

Cutler's buddy Marshall believes the quarterback can lead the Bears to greatness. I'm more skeptical.

"A quarterback has a special way of getting guys going," Marshall said. "When I look at Jay and having the time in Denver with Jay, and the time so far in Chicago, that's why I made the statement, 'That's the guy I want to play for.' Jay knows, he can just say -- I don't want to share it with you -- but he can just make a statement before practice and it'll get me going, because he knows my drive and where I'm at mentally."

I don't worry about Marshall's focus, even with his checkered history and self-acknowledged mental health problems, and I don't worry about Cutler being focused during the week or even leading the Bears to the playoffs. He's done it before, well once, and he was on his way to doing it last year.

It's only the third week of the season, but we have to wonder in a season with one goal, what Cutler will we see in must-win games or in the playoffs? We have no evidence that he will be the elite quarterback, the leader by performance, that the Bears traded for. Playing in Green Bay is no easy challenge, but that's kind of the point, right? We want to see Cutler play above himself, especially under duress.

I just want to see him overcome his weaknesses. I want to praise Cutler, but sometimes it's not easy to believe.

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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