By Chris Emma—
(CBS) With the pocket folding, Bears quarterback Jay Cutler stepped forward, gripped the football and unleashed a bullet over the middle. This had some zip.
Pressure was coming, but Cutler could see a white jersey open. All he could hope for was a catch. Sure enough, Zach Miller made it happen. The tight end who missed the last three seasons with various injuries reached out with his right hand extended, managing to deflect the ball to his grasp, then he fell to the end zone for a touchdown.
This would prove to be the game-winning touchdown and served as two reminders – that Cutler has been fabulous this season, and he’s done it without a full complement of talent at his disposal. On Monday, he led his third fourth-quarter comeback of the season, a 22-19 victory over the Chargers in San Diego that moved the Bears to 3-5.
“That’s what the NFL is about,” Cutler told reporters afterward. “You got to play your best in the fourth quarter.”
Once again, Cutler delivered when it mattered most. He completed 27 of 40 passes for 345 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. On Twitter, the nickname “Clutchler” began to emerge.
Hey, whatever works.
During this rebuilding season, the Bears have been in every game in which Cutler has finished. The two blowout losses came against the Cardinals (Cutler was injured in the second quarter) and the Seahawks, a game that saw Jimmy Clausen serve as the starter. In a win over the Chiefs, he led a fourth-quarter comeback without Alshon Jeffery or Eddie Royal, working with Marquess Wilson, Cameron Meredith and Marc Mariani.
Sure, the Bears are devoid of talent throughout their roster, but they do have Cutler, who has made everyone better.
Cutler became the Bears’ all-time leader in passing touchdowns with 139 in Chicago. He passed Sid Luckman’s career total of 137 with a crafty play-action fake and dart to Martellus Bennett in the second quarter.
The reputation for much of Cutler’s career is that of a mistake-prone quarterback who can’t get out of his way. Fairly or unfairly, he’s been portrayed with various different narratives. But this season has brought different results and rhetoric for Cutler. He’s the heart of the Bears’ offense, playing terrific football. Simply put, he’s been clutch.
Even after a miserable pick-six in the second quarter – one which occurred due to miscommunication with Jeffery – he came out for the second half and was excellent.
“It just says a lot about the guy – how he responded in the second half,” Bears coach John Fox said.
Cutler now has an excellent coaching staff around him, including an offensive coordinator in Adam Gase and quarterbacks coach in Dowell Loggains with whom he trusts. Gone are bad influences to take over the locker room. This is Cutler’s team, and he’s making it that much better.
In Monday’s victory, one could argue the Bears left 16 points on the field in the first half, with Robbie Gould missing a pair of field goals and the team twice taking itself out of field goal range with maddening penalties. Jeffery showed he’s human, letting a touchdown pass slip through his hands. It was a sloppy, frustrating effort at times, but the Bears had just enough to win, led by their quarterback.
Countless narratives have suggested that Cutler isn’t respected, can’t be a good quarterback and wouldn’t ever be a winner. All have been proved wrong this season.
Cutler is silencing his critics, one fourth-quarter comeback after the next.
Follow Chris on Twitter @CEmma670.