By Adam Hoge-
CLEVELAND (CBS) — As multiple reports went public about teammates privately not supporting him, Jay Cutler took the field at First Energy Stadium with the weight of a franchise on his powerful right arm.
He already knew a large portion of the Chicago Bears fan base did not support him. He already knew that former teammates like Brian Urlacher did not support him. But now, two separate reports Sunday morning indicated that some of his own teammates thought backup Josh McCown should be playing against the Browns instead of him.
All of this with the Bears’ playoff hopes on the line.
“I would be crapping my pants if I was him,” wide receiver Brandon Marshall said.
Cutler sort of did crap his pants. Just not literally.
Despite completing eight of his first 13 passes, two of them were interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown by Browns safety Tashaun Gipson, giving Cleveland a 10-3 lead with 8:14 left in the second quarter.
Essentially, a full-blown crisis was developing in Cleveland. The worst case scenario was playing out not only for Cutler, but also for first-year head coach Marc Trestman, who never wavered in his support of the polarizing quarterback.
Cutler was not aware of the reports Sunday morning claiming some teammates did not support him as the starter, but he was worried about that exact same issue earlier in the week and he admitted he felt pressure Sunday.
“Yeah, I’d be lying if I didn’t say there was (pressure). With everything on the outside, and as well as Josh has played, but this was the plan all along and no one really flinched in our building,” the quarterback said.
Cutler knew early in the week that he’d likely be cleared to play against the Browns and he was worried that some of his teammates would not be supportive, given that McCown was coming off a performance against the Cowboys that earned him NFC Offensive Player Of The Week honors.
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“I felt the need to talk to some people,” Cutler admitted. “I talked to (Brandon Marshall), I talked to Matt (Forte), I talked to the linemen, just to let them know, because I don’t know how they feel. I had a good feeling about how they would react, but I just wanted to talk to them man-to-man and be like, ‘hey, if you have a problem with this, I want to know, because this is a team game.’ And no one reacted negatively, no one flinched. Everyone was all-in on it and I appreciate it. Those guys doing that for me and playing the way they did, it was fun.”
Cutler specifically called the offensive line together on Tuesday to make sure they were on-board with his comeback.
“We love to have him back,” left tackle Jermon Bushrod said when asked about the reaction to that meeting. “C’mon, it’s Jay. It’s our guy, he’s the quarterback here. And we’re glad he’s back. We’re glad he’s healthy.”
It helped that Trestman’s message inside Halas Hall was the same all along.
“We understood Josh was playing great, but Josh understood at the end of the day that when Jay was 100 (percent), he was coming back and this was his offense. And it’s a great situation for us to be in,” Bushrod said. “That just goes to show that coach is loyal to his word and Josh understood that and he kept preparing the way that we needed him to.”
Fair or not, the situation put a lot of pressure on Cutler and reflected on the head coach. The decision to go back to Cutler as the starter, while logical and somewhat obvious because he’s the best quarterback on the roster, was still Trestman’s biggest move in his brief tenure with the Bears.
“I don’t look at anything as me having something at stake,” Trestman said. “Every decision we make is completely within the interest of our football team and what’s best at this time. We had a plan going in. We had a plan for the last month.”
And the players knew that plan all along. So while some outsiders might want to paint the picture of a controversy inside the Bears’ locker room, the reality is that everyone on the offensive side of the football was on the same page and on board with Cutler as the starter.
That much was obvious with the way the quarterback’s teammates backed him during what was turning into an complete disaster along Lake Erie.
“I believed in him 100 percent,” McCown said. “I told him he was going to be all right, man. Just silly things happen.”
“We all rallied around Jay coming back,” Marshall said. “We were excited about it and he led us in the fourth quarter, man.”
And most importantly, the head coach didn’t change course. He didn’t think about putting McCown in the game.
“A lot of thoughts crossed my mind. That wasn’t one of them,” Trestman said.
It would have been wrong if it was. At that point, the organization had gone all in on Cutler and bailing in the season’s most crucial moment would have sent mixed messages.
Want to create a real quarterback controversy inside a locker room? Going to McCown at that moment would have been exactly how to do that.
Some might call it stubbornness, but whatever it is, Trestman’s commitment to Cutler paid off. The quarterback threw three touchdowns and zero interceptions from that point of the game on, including two in the fourth quarter when his team trailed 24-17. The Bears scored 21 fourth quarter points and Cutler finished with a passer rating of 102.2, despite the two interceptions.
“Understanding everything around it and to start the way we did, I’m just very, very proud of him, man,” McCown said. “I’m proud to call him my teammate, proud to call him our quarterback and proud to call him my friend, because what he did, just the resolve and the toughness to do what he did today, is probably one of the most prouder moments that I’ve had this whole year.”
Support like that from Cutler’s teammates is what’s actually resonating from the Bears’ locker room. Not the reported angst among players who won’t put their name behind it — if that angst even exists.
“He’s a captain of this football team and he’s an elected captain of this football team and I think he would tell you that not just the offensive guys, but throughout our football team, they stuck together and won for each other today,” Trestman said.
Sunday was a big day for the Chicago Bears. It was a big day for Marc Trestman. It was a big day for Jay Cutler. The 38-31 win over the Cleveland Browns very much fits into the big picture narrative that has been playing out since the Bears let go of Lovie Smith nearly a year ago and made offense a priority.
“I don’t think he was surrounded by adequate coaches (in the past),” Marshall said during Sunday’s post game press conference, with Cutler listening closely less than 10 feet away. “And that’s not all the coaches out there, we worked with some really good coaches, but there were times when he didn’t have the best support upstairs and around him on the field.”
That support is unwavering now. The past week proved as much.
“I think that’s the atmosphere that they want to create, that Tress wants to create, that Phil Emery wants to create, George McCaskey. I think that’s kind of the direction we want to go in, is having an open locker room, players, coaches, everyone all in on this. Because at the end of the day, it takes all of us. We’ve all got to be together and we all got to make it happen or we lose together,” Cutler said.
Sunday, the Bears won together. With Jay Cutler as their quarterback. There’s no debate about that.
Adam Hoge covers the Bears for CBSChicago.com and is a frequent contributor to 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter at @AdamHoge.