- Jon Greenberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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DETROIT -- In many ways, it was a vintage Jay Cutler performance Sunday.
Not the good, hip kind of vintage. More like the musty boxes of sweaters in grandma's flooded basement type of vintage.
Facing a dangerous Detroit Lions team, Cutler's three interceptions and a fumble returned for a touchdown killed the Chicago Bears' chances for a second straight road victory, as the Lions rolled to a 40-32 win at Ford Field.
It wasn't the offensive line's fault. It wasn't the receivers. It wasn't the play calls. None of those were perfect, but if you want to focus a complicated loss on one person, focus on Cutler. That's what he did.
"Three picks and a fumble," Cutler said. "It's hard to come back from those mistakes."
He knows that all too well. So do we. It was Cutler's 10th game of three or more turnovers in his four-plus-season Bears career. Chicago is 2-8 in those games, which include that comeback 31-30 win over Minnesota this season.
We all knew the Bears' 3-0 start was flimsy, and now it's gone in a cloud of smoke, like Reggie Bush dancing through a willing defensive line.
In the past few weeks, fourth-quarter comebacks and 11 takeaways (three for touchdowns) covered up for no pass rush and a still-developing offense.
We knew the fast start wouldn't last. We were right. Most picked the Lions to win this game, including the bookmakers. Detroit is a legit contender in the NFC North, and that was reinforced Sunday.
But, as far as harbingers go, I wouldn't read too much into this game. Cutler's shaky performance didn't have anything to do with persona or his past failures to heed authority. Nothing sexy. Cutty doesn't always do it well.
Of course, after watching a guy turn it over four times, it's easy to react and ramble on about the return of "Bad Jay" and the ghosts that haunt Cutler in the pocket, but new Bears coach Marc Trestman isn't into your narrative. He's into facts.
Eschewing the familiar "I have to see the tape" excuse, Trestman clearly attributed the turnovers to Cutler's fundamentals breaking down on two interceptions and holding the ball too long on the fumble. No mystery. Just correctable mistakes. These are mistakes that will, undoubtedly, pop up again during a 16-game season.
The offensive line held its own against the Lions, giving up a respectable amount of pressure and three sacks. Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh had to deal with double-teams -- rookie guard Kyle Long getting help from center Roberto Garza -- for most of the game but still finished with two sacks, including one that turned into a Lions touchdown.
While the Bears defense struggled mightily to contain running back Bush or get into Matthew Stafford's head, in the end, the four Cutler turnovers -- two in each half -- were probably the difference.
"I think if I play better, it's a different ballgame," he said.
Cutler was 27-for-47 for 317 yards and two touchdowns, but the Bears were 1-for-13 on third down. Matt Forte had a 53-yard touchdown run in the first quarter, but he got only 14 carries for 95 yards because the Bears trailed for most of the game thanks to Cutler's mistakes.
If you need a refresher on the Cutler turnovers, here you go:
In the second quarter, safety Glover Quin ballhawked an underthrown pass to Brandon Marshall on a go route down the right sideline and returned it 42 yards, setting up a 2-yard touchdown pass to Calvin Johnson.The Bears trailed 23-10 after that score.
Cutler got picked again by Delmas in the third quarter, after a Long holding call negated a long first-down catch by Earl Bennett. That one didn't come back to bite the Bears, but the throw was egregiously bad, as the quarterback's much-critiqued footwork caused a throw to Jeffery to sail wide in the middle of the field. He had plenty of space to make the throw, too.
"I don't think they were about decisions," Trestman said. "I think the first [interception] was right where it had to be. I think the safety made a very good play. The second was an underthrow. He just didn't get his feet set. He had one-on-one coverage outside and underthrew Alshon. The third one, to my recollection, was he scrambled right and throw the ball down the middle and again -- just didn't set his feet and the ball went high."
So, to summarize: "It wasn't really about decision-making, I think it was more about just fundamentals of finishing two throws, one which was underthrown and one which was too high."
Basically, Trestman is saying, "My calls were good, Jay's throws were bad." Trestman also made sure to compliment Cutler, saying he played "tough and courageously."
Cutler can appreciate honest evaluation.
"I felt good about my decision-making," he said. "I just missed the throws."
He's not making excuses there. It's the truth. He missed throws he should've made. But, of course, he needs to make those throws. As the Bears proved the first three weeks, the line between 3-1 and 1-3 is very thin.
Cutler's fourth turnover was the killer, as it came deep in Bears territory at the end of the third quarter,
On that play, Suh sacked Cutler off a stunt around right tackle Jordan Mills, and Nick Fairley scooped up the loose ball and scored from 4 yards out to make it 37-16. Mr. Fourth Quarter would need a fifth quarter.
"I was just waiting," Cutler said. "They played zone coverage and were just dropping out of there. I didn't really like the first look, and [Marshall] was trying to work back out. Waiting, a three-step drop for those guys up front. They think the ball is going to be gone pretty quickly. We got away with it a few times, but that's on me."
It's not about blame right now, but rather making corrections. Cutler and Trestman were on the same page after the game, the coach's calming demeanor seemingly affecting his quarterback. We've talked a lot about Cutler's improved weapons, and his coach is certainly one of the most important.
As the season continues, it'll be interesting to see if Cutler avoids the fundamental breakdowns that have plagued him in the past. With a defense beholden to the takeaway, the Bears' season will depend on it.
So, pin this loss on Cutler. He can take it. And know that it's up to him to make sure it doesn't happen again. He can take that, too.
3dEric D. Williams
2dMel Kiper Jr.
2dEric D. Williams