- Melissa Isaacson, Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- Maybe it's the uniform. Or just Chicago fans' lot in life. Whatever it is, if we haven't figured it out yet, we better get used to the idea that Chicago Bears quarterbacks are simply never going to make it easy on us.
This one in particular.
For those who dislike Jay Cutler's personality, who question his leadership skills or his consistency, there will always be another reason to justify it.
But after the Bears' come-from-behind 23-22 victory over Carolina on Sunday, certain inalienable facts need also be acknowledged.
The Bears used to lose these games. A lot.
They used to get into the two-minute drill and fail.
They used to have quarterbacks as unpredictable as the current guy. Who are we kidding? They often have. But while Cutler may sometimes fail in big moments, he doesn't shrink in them. Thanks to that, and another heroic pick-six by the Bears' defense, his teammates were once again defending him after the nine-play, 55-yard, Cutler-directed drive that led to Robbie Gould's 41-yard game-winning field goal.
Asked what the difference was in the Bears' last drive after the 3 1/2 quarters of offensive dreck that preceded it, and wide receiver Brandon Marshall didn't skip a beat.
"Cutler," he said. "That's when you want that type of quarterback. I looked up at the clock and [Carolina's Justin Medlock] just made a field goal that brought the score to 22-20 (Panthers), and Jay gets up smiling. I'm sitting here shaking, a little bit of the cold weather, a little bit of nerves, and he just starts smiling like, 'Well, here we go,' and just put me at ease right away.
"The guys feel that vibe and they play off of it. Jay definitely led the huddle that last drive and made us pick up our game."
Also helping things along was the beautifully gift-wrapped shank by Panthers' punter Brad Nortman that gave Cutler and the Bears the ball at the Carolina 38-yard-line with 10:18 left in regulation. Cutler's 12-yard touchdown pass to Kellen Davis six plays later stopped the Panthers' streak of 19 unanswered points and narrowed the Bears' deficit to 19-14.
There was also the little matter of the Panthers' defense apparently forgetting about that big No. 15 fella, who caught four passes for 36 yards -- three for first downs -- in the Bears' final drive.
"They were playing one coverage and we just kept hitting them and hitting them and hitting them," Cutler explained. "That's pretty much it."
Marshall recalled the last successful Cutler-led two-minute drill he witnessed first-hand.
"It takes me back to 2008 with Denver," he said. "It was the same type of game up in Buffalo. We ran the same play all the way down the field. Javon Walker and Jay just drove us all the way down.
"If teams want to play that way, we're going to take advantage of those opportunities. But at the same time, if they want to cheat a little bit over to me, we've got Earl in the slot and other guys like Devin Hester, who can make plays."
Outside of that, Cutler's play was well below-par. There were dropped passes. And six first-half sacks. But Cutler contributed to at least half of them by hanging onto the ball too long. He threw high and behind his receivers. And the Bears' offense was simply out of rhythm, Cutler's passer rating hovering in the teens for much of the game (37.8 after three quarters and 83.3 for the game) while the possession ratio through three was a ghastly 30:22-14:38 in Carolina's favor.
"No one played well, I didn't play well," Cutler said. "Offensively, those first 3 1/2 quarters were just ugly. We were getting good field position, the defense was fighting their butts off, we just couldn't get it going."
We could make excuses for Cutler by saying his sore ribs affected his play, but he didn't, so I won't.
"I don't know, I wish I knew," Bears coach Lovie Smith said when asked the same thing. "None of us know. I didn't get a shot to the ribs and I didn't have my best performance today and a few others could say the same thing."
Cutler was amusing as always.
"B [Marshall] said, 'They're booing us out there,' " Cutler said. "And I said, 'I'd boo us too.' I told those guys, 'It was a boo-worthy performance.' It was pathetic offensively, what we put out there. It wasn't up to standard. We have to get better. We know that, our fans know that. Luckily enough, we got out of there with a win but the first half was nothing to be proud of."
Smith also went the selective-memory route, saying he couldn't remember anything about Cutler's performance Sunday other than the last drive. Ditto for Cutler's sprint downfield on a dead ball after Panthers corner Josh Norman intercepted his 2-point conversion attempt, resurrecting memories of Cutler's season-ending injury last season against the San Diego Chargers' following an interception. The problem this time being that you can't return a picked off 2-point conversion attempt, so there was no point to chase Norman.
"There are a lot of other things I'm going to talk about," Smith said, trying to laugh it off, "but we're not going to go there right now."
You can laugh off a lot of things when you win.
"Everything's easier when you win games, period," Cutler said.
That much is true.
Bears fans have seen quarterbacks struggle before, but at least Jay Cutler can triumph in the end.