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Sunday, November 22, 2009
Updated: November 23, 11:51 AM ET
Prime-time pariahs

By Jon Greenberg
ESPNChicago.com

CHICAGO -- Jay Cutler is not your savior.

I'm not just speaking to Bears fans. They get it by now. Even the most optimistic homer of a Bears fan realizes this team needs major work, from the top of the organizational ladder to the backups on the field. It's not a playoff team, it's a turn-it-off team.

Jay Cutler
Jay Cutler is 0-4 in prime-time games this season with passer ratings of 43.2, 79.6, 33.6 and 63.2.

We've seen Cutler perform so badly during prime-time games, I sometimes think I'm watching bloopers from some lame reality talent show like, "Chicago's Got Talent" or "Anybody can play quarterback."

No, I'm also talking to the network scheduling gurus who scheduled the Bears for so many (too many) prime-time games, thinking he was going to follow President Obama as the next made-for-TV star from the Windy City. Instead of getting those celebration shots, NBC's cameras locked in on Cutler, hoping to get some dramatic glowers. Mostly Cutler just looked angry at himself.

Man, that Monday night game against Minnesota next month should be a ratings bonanza, huh?

On Sunday night, in the Bears' 24-20 loss to Philadelphia, Cutler continued his Not Ready for Primetime performance, which would be great if he were auditioning for Second City. But when you're facing the Philadelphia Eagles at home, it's unacceptable for a Pro Bowl quarterback to play like that again and again.

As everyone knows, the Bears are 0-4 in highly-touted night games this season. Cutler's quarterback ratings in those games are as off-putting as the dialogue in a Twilight movie: 43.2, 79.6, 33.6, 63.2. He's thrown 12 interceptions, compared to four touchdowns. He averaged 3.6 yards per attempt Sunday, which is seemingly impossible for a player with his arm.

Cutler's line was uglier than John Madden's old mutant turkeys: 24 for 43 for 171 yards, one touchdown, one interception and a slew of passes that were under-thrown, over-thrown, everything but well-thrown. The Bears went 3-for-16 on third-down conversions and had just 14 first downs, two coming off penalties.

Cutler had thrown for at least 300 yards in his past two games. Sure they were losses, but he looked good against Arizona (369 yards, three touchdowns), before his meltdown last week in San Francisco. An extra few days between games did nothing to inspire the offense.

"We're not winning ballgames," Cutler said of the odious offense. "We're not scoring enough points, and we're not helping out the defense."

The Bears, now losers of five of six since their bye to drop to 4-6 overall, didn't get three Sunday night games because NBC wanted to highlight Lance Briggs. Cutler was the draw in a bit of schadenfreude for Denver fans bemoaning their erstwhile 6-0 start.

Cutler missed deep throws, he missed quick slants. He threw balls at players' shoes and a foot over their outstretched hands.

"He's going to make those throws," offensive coordinator Ron Turner said.

Turner's offense is an affront to NFL fans everywhere. If Sarah Palin were running to replace him as offensive coordinator -- and maybe she would be an improvement -- she would swear she said "no thanks" to his "Runs to Nowhere." I agree. But even the biggest Turner haters have to admit it's not all his fault. He's not the one overthrowing receivers, quitting on routes, or running smack into the middle of the defensive line. But when an offense goes six quarters without a touchdown and can't score in the red zone, well, it's obvious there are some major flaws and some changes that need to be made.

Cutler looked dazed in the first half, but he never left the game, sauntering out to the huddle every time with his chinstraps loose and his pants bloodied. Maybe he wasn't at his best physically, but it's plainly obvious that this offense just isn't working as designed.

The Bears are coming ever-closer to making December a moot point.

"That wasn't part of the master plan, but that's where we are," coach Lovie Smith said. "We still have a lot of football left to go. That's the only way we can look at it."

Seriously, Lovie. Don't rub it in.

The Bears' defense put enough pressure on Donovan McNabb and caused two turnovers. But Cutler was a mess. In the first half he went 11-for-20 for 69 yards, missing consecutive key throws to Greg Olsen and Devin Hester, on second and 2 and third and 2 at Philly's 27, early in the second quarter that would have gone for a touchdown. The Bears wound up settling for a field goal and a 10-3 deficit.

The defense forced a punt and on the second play of the next drive, newly-activated running back Kahlil Bell broke a tackle at the line of scrimmage and rumbled 72 yards, before he was caught at the Eagles' 10. It was the longest Bears' run in 20 years, since Neal Anderson broke off a 73-yarder in 1989.

"It's been a long time since I've actually gotten a chance to play live football, and to have a first carry like that was great," Bell said. "The only thing that could have made it better was if I scored."

So how did the Bears take advantage? A 1-yard pass to fullback Jason McKie, a run by Matt Forte for a loss of 1 (Why not Bell?) and an incomplete pass to Olsen. Another Robbie Gould field goal made it 10-6.

"Down in the red zone you need to be able to get touchdowns instead of field goals," Smith said. "That hurt us."

"When you're in the red zone, that's when you've got to make it count," receiver Earl Bennett said. "We left plays out there. You can't do that in this league."

The Bears had a 20-17 lead with 2:57 left after Cutler finally ended his red zone drought with a 15-yard touchdown pass to Kellen Davis and a two-point conversion pass to Forte.

After two straight three and outs, the latter ending in a blocked field goal from 48 yards, the Eagles took the lead for good with 5:38 left.

On the next series, Cutler missed Knox going deep down the left sideline on third and 5 from Chicago's 30.

"It was a bad throw," he said. "What do you want me to say? I missed it. It was a throw I should have hit, but I didn't."

Cutler's last throw was an interception, as linebacker Tracy White tipped a pass Cutler tried to force to Olsen, landing in Ramsee Robinson's mitts.

"We felt like this was a playoff game for us," Smith said. "And we needed to, of course, win every game."

After the game, McNabb put his arm around Cutler and moved him away from the post-game scrum. McNabb talked to him for a few minutes, whispering in his ear as Cutler nodded along.

"That's between me and him," Cutler said. "I will say, he's a first-class guy."

"What we talked about, we are going to keep between us," McNabb said. "It's the fraternity of the quarterbacks. I've been through a different situation, but somewhat similar to what he is going through right now."

Whatever he said doesn't matter now. After next week, this season will almost officially be over, even if another month remains.

"We're running out of time," Cutler said. "The window is getting smaller and smaller. Anything can happen and we always say in the NFL it gets crazy in November and December, but the window is getting smaller and smaller."