By Dave Wischnowsky–
Eleven years ago, I was sitting in the press box at Michigan Stadium, watching the Wolverines storm to a 27-7 lead over Illinois midway through the third quarter when a kindly, gray-haired U. of M. alum seated in my row leaned in toward me.
“You know, that Tom Brady,” he said in hushed tones suitable for press row, “I think he can be a pretty good NFL quarterback.”
“Uh, sure?” I replied, a bit skeptically, considering that Brady, a senior, wasn’t even Michigan’s full-time starting QB. He split time that season with sophomore Drew Henson.
That day, Illinois rallied to stun No. 9 Michigan 35-29 as Brady threw a couple of interceptions down the stretch and looked like anything but a future NFL superstar. But ever since then, as I’ve watched Brady win three Super Bowls, make countless clutch plays for New England and become arguably the premier signal-caller of his generation, I’ve remembered that wise Wolverine booster’s prophetic words.
Yeah, I guess you could say Tom Brady has become a pretty good NFL quarterback. Jay Cutler, meanwhile, is still trying to learn how to be one.
And, on Sunday, the gulf between Super Bowl contender Patriots and Super Bowl pretender Bears was exposed to be as wide as the gulf between the team’s starting QBs.
On a day that could have put Chicago salt trucks out of business, Brady froze the Bears’ defense, completing 27 of 40 passes for a season-high 369 yards and two touchdown passes during his eighth consecutive game without an interception.
Cutler, meanwhile, just looked frozen.
“We could have been playing anywhere, didn’t matter what the field was,’” the Bears QB said after tossing two picks, losing a fumble and completing less than half his passes for 152 yards in the Bears 36-7 loss.
With that quote, Cutler essentially said that he could have stunk no matter the game conditions, whereas Brady was going to play big on any field, in any weather.
Now, I doubt that’s what Jay meant. But the statement still would be correct. As leaders and as winners, the two quarterbacks are in completely different leagues. Brady, this year, is gunning for his fourth Super Bowl crown, while Cutler is merely trying to make a postseason game for the first time since he was a senior in high school.
Disparities in the NFL don’t get much bigger than that.
Yes, with Green Bay’s loss at Detroit, the Bears remain in solid shape to win the NFC North and make the playoffs.
But, after Sunday’s debacle vs. New England, the Bears’ Super Bowl dreams need to be put to sleep.
Defense might indeed win championships, but Super Bowls also are generally won by teams with great quarterbacks.
The cold truth is the Bears still don’t have one of those.
And the Patriots most certainly do.
Do you agree with Dave? Post your comments below.
If nothing else, Dave Wischnowsky is an Illinois boy. Raised in Bourbonnais, educated at the University of Illinois and bred on sports in the Land of Lincoln, he now resides on Chicago’s North Side, just blocks from Wrigley Field. Formerly a reporter and blogger for the Chicago Tribune, Dave currently writes a syndicated column, The Wisch List, which you can check out via his blog at http://www.wischlist.com.