By Dan Bernstein
CBSChicago.com Senior Columnist
(CBS) When you win, it’s cute to be a jerk.
It also helps when your performance on the field cashes the checks written by another bout of childish behavior, caught by national cameras that stalk the sidelines, craving narrative-supporting images like digital vampires.
The fine line between fiery competitor and unmanageable baby tilts in your direction when you throw for 275 yards and two touchdowns, complete 75% of your passes and compile a ridiculous rating of 140.1.
The screaming, scripted loons of morning television and the unscripted goofs of local radio are held at bay – for a week, at least – by a combination of your own strong play, opponent’s foibles, and a wickedly effective defense.
All on the road, in conference, and in front of the country.
Jay Cutler came into the game still shadowed by what happened two weeks ago in Green Bay, in a similar situation. He melted down, embarrassed a teammate, brushed off any responsibility for the loss, and then reluctantly half-apologized, kind of. His middling game at home against the Rams did little to ease worries about his emotional fragility under the lights, both literally and figuratively.
With the Bears leading 10-7 in the second quarter, Cutler was forced to call a timeout, seemingly after a slow communication of the play call from the coaches. Just earlier, cameras had caught him yelling “Gimme the f—ing play!,” and this second incident motivated offensive coordinator Mike Tice to have a sit-down with his quarterback on the bench.
It didn’t last long, with Cutler in no mind to be coached. He popped right up, clowning Tice – who seemed to react with a jilted “Hey!” – and walking away.
(If you’re a parent, you have probably been on the receiving end of that move, and some of us as children executed it with aplomb. It was a go-to for me, and I was great at it. Now I’m the old guy sitting there on the couch saying “Hey!,” but at least I’m not wearing Tice’s glasses.)
Just think about how this would be received if Cutler had played like his counterpart.
Tony Romo stunk, got no help from his unaware, slippery-fingered receivers, and threw five interceptions. He performed as many feared Cutler would, and even was shown talking animatedly to Dez Bryant after their hot-read miscommunication put the ball into the hands of Charles Tillman and into the end zone.
But Cutler was great. He recovered from his own early hiccups and inconsistent help to be a settling influence, even as he was squabbling. His arm changed the context.
Ball-hawking defensive backs, Henry Melton, Lance Briggs and Julius Peppers did, too, but Cutler ultimately decided what mattered. It’s the latest reminder that outcomes in professional sports determine how we color everything else.
Unlike in Green Bay, the breakdowns in his game did not mirror the breakdowns in his behavior. We will never know how one intertwines with the other: what is causal, what is correlative, or what has nothing whatsoever to do with anything.
Too many times already we have “concluded” that Jay Cutler is all that we have seen, and that the Bears will live with that, only to continue to over-analyze how his brusque personality could be the limiting factor on an otherwise possible champion.
As the trite, empty phrase goes, Cutler is what he is.
That thought just feels a heck of a lot better right after the scoreboard says what it says.