By Tim Baffoe–
(CBS) The heat and humidity across the northern plains peak. Back-to-school ads’ earliness is only mitigated by the drug store soullessly putting up Halloween displays. Armchair GMing over a baseball team’s trade deadline moves or lack thereof hints at October hopes or August resignation.
Any of those could be considered signs of the oncoming of the NFL season. But you truly know football is back when a certain beast emerges from sweltering hibernation, stretches its limbs and releases a whine that rolls across the country to please the eager ears of pundits everywhere.
Yes, folks, the season has officially commenced when Bears quarterback Jay Cutler’s name is trashed unnecessarily and unsolicited.
On Wednesday, ESPN published an excellent piece by Mina Kimes on New England Patriots tight end Martellus Bennett and his brother, Seattle Seahawks defensive lineman Michael. It’s a great feature on the eccentric, philosophical and socially fearless football fraternals that makes the reader laugh as much as fear ever eating lunch in public with the Bennetts. They make life playfully awkward for waitstaff and fellow diners, wax irreverently on football vs. real life and generally make the interview experience one that Kimes calls “being an audience member at an improv show, occasionally called on to offer prompts.”
At one point in the three days the Bennetts offered their time for the article, Kimes brings up Cutler without specifics.
“Worst quarterback in the NFL,” (Michael) says.
“I’d be open and he’d throw into double coverage,” says Martellus, who spent the past three seasons as Cutler’s teammate in Chicago.
And now I’m sure football season is underway.
Cutler is beginning his eighth year as the Bears’ starting quarterback. Three-quarters of NFL starting quarterbacks this year can’t claim such a tenure with their currents teams. With the attrition that’s inherent to the league, that’s no small feat. It’s also an indication that Cutler’s national reputation as a joke is probably more about humor than actual substance, contracts be damned –as NFL teams aren’t in the business of clinging to bad money that isn’t performing. Last season, Cutler had his highest career QB rating, second-highest completion percentage and lowest interception percentage besides a 2011 season when injury limited him to just 10 games. All of that once again came with an undermanned receiving corps that has plagued him his entire time in Chicago.
But I’m not here to debate Cutler’s merits behind center. Instead, I ask this: When do swipes at Cutler and piling on him get old? When are we past this tired national joke?
Because Cutler mentions are blood in the water for national talkers and writers. I don’t fault Kimes, who asked a valid question about an athlete whose guarded personality creates a perception of D-baggishness that creates further poking and prodding. (Also worth noting: Kimes asked about several other NFLers, too, and didn’t press on the Cutler subject.) I’m even willing to assume one or both of the Bennetts weren’t all that serious in their replies. Kimes does note earlier in her piece: “This is a lesson that everyone who encounters the Bennetts eventually learns: At any given moment, they might be screwing with you.”
Remember that it was less than a year ago that Martellus compared Cutler to Christ and a sports film hero.
is Jay Cutler too often criticized? Martellus: "They threw rocks at Jesus, & Jesus was an excellent guy who did a lot of awesome stuff."
Patrick Finley (@patrickfinley) October 04, 2015
is Jay Cutler too often criticized? Martellus: "They threw rocks at Jesus, & Jesus was an excellent guy who did a lot of awesome stuff."—
Before comparing Jay Cutler to Jesus, Martellus Bennett compared him to Keanu Reeves in the movie 'The Replacements'
Patrick Finley (@patrickfinley) October 04, 2015
Before comparing Jay Cutler to Jesus, Martellus Bennett compared him to Keanu Reeves in the movie 'The Replacements'—
To hell with such considerations, though, if you hear what the Bennetts said and have a national stage. Cutler got ripped — that’s the story you roll with afterward. (Also ripped were 10 other NFL figures in Kimes’ piece, most worse than Cutler if you read between the lines, but don’t.) Cutler bashing is blood in the water for lazy, uncreative folk.
Case in point: Fox Sports 1’s All Takes Matter, which took the opportunity be extra bad and ran with it. Colin Cowherd tapped the “He’s not a leader” easy mainstay, while Jason Whitlock called Cutler “garbage” because I guess there’s jealousy that Cutler is better than Jeff George or something.
So edgy. This followed another step in the lifecycle of any round of random Cutler crapping which is comparing another former teammate’s or coach’s second opinion. Brandon Marshall has never had an issue talking Cutler.
“I’ll go out on a limb and say this again,” Marshall said on ESPN’s First Take Tuesday. “I truly believe if Alshon Jeffery stays healthy, and then you have Kevin White, if this rookie can come in and catch 55-plus balls, Jay Cutler can be an MVP this year.”
Then Stephen A. Smith got the vapors and stuff of that nature, and we have a new seed of unfair expectation planted, in August, in the gab-o-sphere: Cutler as potential MVP candidate.
The next step? Ask Cutler about all this.
“I’m really not going to get into that,” Cutler said of ex-teammate Bennett. “Most receivers and tight ends are always open. Hopefully, Tom (Brady) can do a better job of finding him than I did.
“You can’t please everybody. We’re at both ends of the spectrum here.
“We wish both of those guys good luck. I had fun playing with them here. It’s just kind of how it goes, guys go to different teams. We wish them the best of luck.”
And why do former teammates gives answers to all the questions they get asked about you, Jay?
“I don’t know,” he replied. “I could say something clever and smart, but I’ll just pass.”
These are all professional, diplomatic responses to the umpteenth time Cutler has been asked about why other people don’t find him cuddly. These are kind of answers that if they came from Peyton Manning or Aaron Rodgers would be standard beat article filler.
But if you’re NFL.com, you headline Cutler’s comments with “Jay Cutler has Jay Cutler-like reaction to Bennett barbs.”
Is there a misperceived bully who gets bullied more in sports? The simplest answer to all this is win games and people will stop both caring about your personality (just ask Cam Newton, right?) and using it as correlative to your stats. But Cutler’s in his 11th year in the pros now and eighth in Chicago. When does this stuff about a guy who firmly is what he is become too old?
Hell, roast him for being an anti-vaxxer if you want to do some really valid criticism, but otherwise leave the dude alone before he’s taken a 2016 snap.
And while we’re at it, Smoking Cutler is equally tired and was never really funny to begin with. Congrats on still posting those memes while quoting The Chappelle Show.
I hate having to seem like I’m sticking up for a millionaire grown-up who seems to genuinely not care about the undue criticism that hounds him. Because I’m not. Instead I’m sticking up for constructive criticism, for sanity, for the end to the same bad repetitive conversations that constantly blow up about a quarterback who has been long established talent-wise and other. Cutler’s football bio is pretty crystallized by now, including who has called his plays and what tools have been around him.
But keep kicking the guy who finds media attention thoroughly silly. Can’t imagine why.
My head hurts. Which means football season is back.
Tim Baffoe is a columnist for CBSChicago.com. Follow Tim on Twitter @TimBaffoe. The views expressed on this page are those of the author, not CBS Local Chicago or our affiliated television and radio stations.