By Dan Durkin-

(CBS) Would Bears fans be happy with a quarterback who ranked near the top in just about every passing department season in and season out, but needed five years as a starter to break through and win it all?

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No doubt. That profile describes Brett Favre to a T.

And Jay Cutler, too.

Considering where the Bears are this season, it would take a near-miracle for Cutler to get his Super Bowl ring as quickly as Favre. But stack the numbers of the two side-by-side and a championship in the next season or two doesn’t seem so far-fetched.

Both quarterbacks led their teams to the NFC Championship game in their fourth year as a full-time starter, and over this time-period:

  • Cutler has 32 wins, completed 61.7% of his passes for 14,963 yards, 95 touchdowns, 74 interceptions, and an 84.3 quarterback rating;
  • Favre had 37 wins, completed 62.6% of his passes for 14,825 yards, 108 touchdowns, 64 interceptions, and an 86.9 quarterback rating.

But here’s where they don’t compare: Green Bay fans were patient with Favre and Bears fans are just the opposite. They think he’s a dog and worse, a malingerer. It all goes back to the NFC Championship, when Cutler got hurt and everybody – his NFL brethren, the Chicago media, national media, your mail man – began piling on.  This moment was the tipping point for existing Cutler haters, who certainly didn’t let the facts – a Grade II MCL tear – get in the way of a good story, burying Cutler in the process like an opposing pass rusher.

So, why do people choose to hate Jay Cutler?  That question has puzzled me, and the answers leave me even more confused. Typically, the reasons are subjective: his body language, facial expressions, presumed disinterest, lack of sideline leadership, or my personal favorite – his lack of toughness.  I’ll agree to disagree with any negative perceptions people have based on Cutler seeming aloof, as I’ll take talent over intangibles any day of the week.  The objective facts, however, show Cutler is the toughest quarterback in the NFL.

In Denver, he played the 2007 season with undiagnosed type 1 diabetes, losing 33 pounds in the process, yet didn’t miss a start. In Chicago, he has been sacked 108 times in 40 starts, yet only missed one start.  Question Cutler’s occasionally shoddy mechanics and footwork – which are by-products of the confidence he has in his rare arm strength – all you want, but he is plenty tough.

Even Cutler’s arrival in Chicago came with a dark cloud hovering above. Denver had just fired Mike Shanahan and brought in Patriots “wunderkind” Josh McDaniels to run the show.  Oddly, one of the first power plays by McDaniels was to alienate his best asset (Cutler), letting it be known that Matt Cassel was his first choice as the franchise’s quarterback.

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Fresh off a Pro Bowl season where he threw for 4,526 yards and 25 touchdowns, Cutler felt betrayed and McJaygate ensued.  Strangely, the public sided with McDaniels, and Cutler was labeled a petulant prima donna. Attempts to repair the relationship failed, and of all NFL teams to swoop in and acquire Cutler were the Chicago Bears.  The hysteria in Chicago on April 2, 2009, was palpable.  Bears fans thought, finally, we have a quarterback and a chance.

Looking back on the deal between the Broncos and Bears, the Bears are the clear winners.   The draft picks Denver acquired were busts, their quarterback situation has devolved from Jay Cutler to Kyle Orton to Tim Tebow, Josh McDaniels now coordinates the NFL’s 24th ranked offense in St. Louis, and the Bears were one game from the Super Bowl last season with minimal talent on offense.

Cutler has proven he can perform at an extremely high level when he’s given protection and weapons to work with.  Statistically he was the best quarterback in the AFC in 2008.  That season, he dropped back 616 times and was sacked a mere 11 times, that’s one sack every 56 attempts.  Rookie wide receiver Eddie Royal hauled in 91 passes for 980 yards and 5 touchdowns in his one season with Cutler.  Royal barely reached those totals in his next two seasons combined.  Did Royal suddenly become a bad receiver?  No, he was victimized by the Cutler trade.

Contrast the protection and talent Cutler had to work with in Denver with the cast of characters he’s been asked to work with in Chicago, and the point crystallizes.  On average, Cutler is sacked every 11 times he drops back, and the Bears haven’t had a 1,000-yard receiver since 2002.  Other than Matt Forte and Cutler himself, who on the Bears offense would start on another NFL team?  The simple answer is, nobody.  Yet, Cutler has the Bears on pace for 10 wins this season and a playoff berth.

Certainly Cutler’s play on occasion has left something to be desired, but if the team you root for has a quarterback not named Rodgers, Brees, Manning, or Brady, that’s life in the NFL.  Cutler is in the next tier with Ben Roethlisberger, Philip Rivers, and the other Manning – quarterbacks who have the talent to carry a team on their own, but can be flat-out deadly when properly equipped.

Maybe there’s a simpler explanation for Cutler-hating?  Perhaps he was seen putting ketchup on a Chicago-style hot dog while sporting a Packers hat. Whatever the reason, Cutler is by far the most talented quarterback I’ve ever seen line up under center for the Bears, so I’m reserving judgment until he’s actually provided with a full compliment of professional lineman and receivers.

So the next time you feel the urge to blame Cutler for an offensive failing that may or may not have been his fault, I ask you to re-familiarize yourself with the list of Bears’ quarterbacks during Favre’s iron man streak.  Once you’re done fighting off the gag reflexes induced by that list of quarterbacks the Bears (rarely) won in spite of, realize Cutler is a quarterback you can win because of.

As a Bears fan, there are several areas of this organization to be concerned about.  But for once, the starting quarterback is at the bottom of that list.

Dan Durkin

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Dan Durkin joined The Score’s columnist community after finishing runner-up in the 2011 Pepsi Max Score Search. He is a graduate of the University of Illinois where he was a member of the men’s football team (despite his best efforts to join the women’s team). Dan is a longtime Scorehead, known as Dan in Wicker Park – even though he no longer resides in Wicker Park – who will be sharing NFL analysis and opinions. You can follow Dan on Twitter @djdurkin. To read more of Dan’s blogs click here.