Commentary

'Mr. Fourth Quarter'

After second straight comeback win, Bears' Cutler building rep for late heroics

Updated: September 16, 2013, 10:50 AM ET
By Jon Greenberg | ESPNChicago.com

CHICAGO -- You know the old saying: Jay Cutler giveth, Jay Cutler taketh away and Jay Cutler throweth ridiculous, game-winning, back-shoulder touchdown passes.

[+] EnlargeCutler
Jerry Lai/USA TODAY SportsJay Cutler passed for 290 yards and three touchdowns, and most importantly gave the Bears a chance to win late.
OK, maybe it's a new saying.

For the second straight week, Cutler led a fourth-quarterback comeback in Sunday's 31-30 victory over Minnesota.

After three turnovers by Cutler -- two interceptions and a fumble -- and a late fumble by Matt Forte, the Bears needed their leader to take the game by the throat, and he did, Jay Cutty style.

"We have Mr. Fourth Quarter on our side, in our huddle, Jay-Cut," Bears receiver Brandon Marshall said with a smile, looking at a seemingly aloof Cutler in the postgame news conference room after the game. "I'm just excited to have him in the huddle, because he makes everything so easy."

"Mr. Fourth Quarter" certainly sounds better than "Pouty McPick-Six."

Not counting a spike to stop the clock, Mr. Fourth Quarter went 7-for-9 for 76 yards on the Bears' game-winning drive, highlighted by a 16-yard touchdown pass to tight end Martellus Bennett, who made a twisting catch and tucked himself in the pylon for the winning score with 10 seconds left.

"He's just ice cold," Marshall said.

Typically when Cutler is ice cold, the Bears freeze up.

Before this game, the Bears were 1-7 when Cutler had three or more turnovers. The only win came in a 23-22 win over Carolina last year. Cutler led that fourth-quarter comeback, too.

Last week against the Bengals, Cutler and Marshall connected on the winning touchdown, a 19-yard pass at the same pylon, with 7:58 to play. The Bears then salted away the game with a 6 1/2-minute drive.

"It says a lot," Marshall said of the comeback wins. "It shows the type of guys we got in the locker room, the type of coaches we have. I thought that was over last week against the Bengals, but apparently not. We left a lot out there, but there's some things we can build off."

This week, the final drive began with 3:15 left from the Bears' 34. Cutler was in control throughout. He connected with Marshall on two third-down conversions. With 43 seconds left, on first-and-20 from the Vikings' 39 (thanks to a Jermon Bushrod holding call), he found Bennett all alone on the right sideline. Bennett gained 23 yards, but didn't get out of bounds.

So Cutler, after yelling for everyone to hurry up, spiked the ball with 21 seconds left. After a throw to Alshon Jeffery sailed out of bounds in the end zone, he found Bennett (seven catches, 76 yards) on a passing play that worked earlier in the game for a 1-yard touchdown pass.

"The only place, really, to put it, was to the back shoulder and turn him and make a play," Cutler said. "He did, made a play, stayed in bounds, was able to extend the ball for a touchdown. It was a great play on his part."

Cutler's teammates credited him for being cool in the pocket late. Say this for the guy, he knows how to bounce back from mistakes. He's had plenty of experience with adversity.

"They're going to be as calm as I am and I try to stay relatively calm out there," Cutler said.

Cutler let loose after the score with a triumphant fist pump as his teammates mobbed him.

But before that winning drive, you would be forgiven if you said "Same ol' Jay." For everything good he did, Cutler looked like he made just enough bad plays to give the Vikings a win.

His fumble was returned for a touchdown, his fourth-quarter interception converted into a field goal.

"It looked bad on the stat sheet if you say two picks, but Jay, he really led us, man," Marshall said.

Marshall isn't just defending his friend. Cutler never looked out of control. He went 28-for-39 for 290 yards and three touchdowns. His passer rating was 97.2. He felt the pressure and adjusted with rollouts and a few runs.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Marshall
AP Photo/Charles Rex ArbogastBrandon Marshall took the blame for one interception and praised Cutler's leadership in crunch time.
The fumble was purely his own fault, as Cutler lamented after the game, for not securing the ball on a run. His first interception came at the 1-yard line on a tipped pass intended for tight end Steve Maneri.

"I think if you ask Jay, he'd want to have that one back," Bears coach Marc Trestman said. "Probably would have thrown the ball away and we would've had three downs to score."

The other pick was an underthrown ball to Marshall on a fade. Marshall took the blame for that one, saying he ran the wrong route.

"If the safety is high, I've got to play the ball better as far as slowing down a little bit," Marshall said. "I just blew through that route and kind of screwed him. I didn't really leave him any room to throw the ball."

Still, a turnover is a turnover. The Bears have plenty to clean up. Cutler has work to do.

"It's hard to win a game with four turnovers," Cutler said. "It just is. It's hard to do in this league. You can't do it without great special teams play and a great defense. Hard to do without a lot of help."

The defense had trouble bringing pressure for the second straight game, which is a cause for concern, but they locked down in the red zone in the second half, holding the Vikings to field goals on three consecutive possessions. Tim Jennings erased Cutler's second quarter interception by returning a Christian Ponder interception 44 yards for a touchdown. Adrian Peterson had 100 yards, but it took him 26 carries. Take away a 36-yard gain and it was a very pedestrian day.

Devin Hester was otherworldly, breaking his own single-game return yardage record with 249 yards on five returns, which included an 80-yarder.

But the Bears needed Cutler, not the defense and not the special teams, to win it again. And he came through.

If you're a student of recent Bears history, or misery, you remember, last season followed a similar script.

The Bears' offense looked formidable in an opening win over Indianapolis and everyone went nuts. Cutler talked big before Week 2's Green Bay game, daring the Packers to play press coverage on Marshall. And then, Cutler threw four interceptions and was sacked seven times in a 23-10 loss in Green Bay.

"Jay is a guy that he'll give you a chance," Packers cornerback Charles Woodson said that day. "You just need to be in position."

A year later, that assessment still rings true. But for all the right reasons for the Bears.

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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