Commentary

True blood

Cutler proved his toughness, but with an effective line that shouldn't be needed

Updated: November 2, 2009, 11:29 AM ET
By Jon Greenberg | ESPNChicago.com

CHICAGO -- Jay Cutler had the kind of game that can't be judged by his numbers.

He completed 17 of 30 passes for 225 yards with no touchdowns, one interception and a 66.7 quarterback rating.

[+] EnlargeJay Cutler
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesExpectations were high for Jay Cutler after the Bears traded two first-round draft picks and Kyle Orton to Denver to bring him to Chicago.

Throw it all out. Cutler didn't provide the aerial show he was brought here to produce, mostly because he was running for his life. But he did lead his team to a win in the most literal use of the word.

And if you really want to know what kind of competitor Cutler was in the Bears' 30-6 unimpressive win over the hapless Cleveland Browns, ask him about the blood.

On third-and-8 at his own 31, with 6½ minutes left in the first half, Cutler took a chin shot from the helmet of Kamerion Wimbley. He stayed on the ground for a bit and required medical attention, but never left the field.

Wimbley was flagged for a personal foul for helmet-to-helmet contact. Cutler stayed in and completed his next four passes during a 10-play, 71-yard touchdown drive. Cutler bit his tongue hard on Wimbley's hit, drawing blood. When did it stop bleeding?

"It stopped a little bit in the fourth quarter," Cutler said.

Some quarterbacks smell blood, others taste their own and fight through it.

Football players are tough by vocation, and that includes quarterbacks, so Cutler doesn't deserve a medal or anything for playing through pain. But quarterbacks get criticized for playing with extra protection, because officials are flag-happy nowadays when the marquee players get roughed up.

Sure, that's true, but a flag doesn't take away the blood. Even by leather-helmet standards, Cutler took more than his share of abuse Sunday, and he earned everybody's respect for it. He got hit at least seven times, by the official count, including twice by Shaun Rogers, which Cutler said counts as four hits, because the massive defensive tackle is 6-foot-4, 350 pounds.

"When he falls on you, it takes a couple years off your life," fullback Jason McKie said.

As painful as the Bears' win over Cleveland was to watch, it was more painful for Cutler to play. But he showed that he's worth the $30 million extension he signed recently.

"Jay is not going to complain," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "Of course, he took a few more licks than we would like, but some days are like that. It does say a lot about him that he can sit in there."

The Bears couldn't block a pop-up ad Sunday, and Cutler paid the price. His receivers couldn't get much separation from those superstar defensive backs, so when he took off running, Cutler got even more abuse.

He ran five times for 32 yards, highlighted by a 19-yard run and an 11-yard run in the fourth in which he got lit up a bit running out of bounds. Don't think his teammates didn't notice that, either.

"He's tough," said defensive back Danieal Manning, who had an interception and a fumble recovery. "Down the field, when he makes a run, we can tell he doesn't like to slide. He wants to get that extra yard. That's something big, and we want to get behind our quarterback."

"He took a lot of shots today and never came out of the game," receiver Devin Hester said.

The Bears' embattled offensive line continued its gruesome season. Josh Beekman's performance in place of Frank Omiyale at left guard sure didn't do much for the line's reputation, though running back Matt Forte had a pretty good game, gaining 90 yards on 26 carries with two touchdowns.

Rogers caused a lot of havoc in the middle and at one point landed on Cutler after he threw a pass, forcing Cutler's head to bounce off the turf, which is exactly how concussions occur.

"They were running a lot of different looks, blitzing almost every play," McKie said. "They were run-blitzing, pass-blitzing. They did a good job scheme-wise. They've got a beast in the middle with Shaun Rogers. He put a strain on our offense, a little bit."

"I got Jay hit on one of those protections out there," Beekman said. "I can't let that happen, but [center Olin Kreutz] said there are going to be plays like that and just keep battling."

For his part, there were no TV shots of Cutler chewing out teammates or pouting on the sidelines. He traded potshots with Browns defensive coordinator Rob Ryan on the field, but did nothing but praise Ryan afterward. Cutler was perfectly composed with the media as well.

No complaints, no crying, no woe-is-me faces, no false hustle. Cutler certainly has nothing to prove in the toughness department. He is as Chicago-tough as a Nelson Algren protagonist. In his Denver days, he was never touted as a prototypical tough-guy leader. But since his days getting ransacked at Vanderbilt, he's sure demonstrated the ability to take a licking.

"The quarterback position, you've got to be a leader," McKie said. "And every time a leader goes out there and takes those shots and continues getting back under center, you know he's leading by example."

Still, toughness doesn't win football games alone. You can't grit your way to the playoffs.

"We've got a lot of work to do," Cutler said. "It's good to get a win, but offensively, we've got to get to work. Offensively, in every respect possible, we've got to get better."

Offensive coordinator Ron Turner, as popular in Chicago as lake-effect snow, was asked what aspect the offense needs to improve.

"All," he said. "Coaching, everything. All. Playing, coaching, everything."

While Cutler takes a beating in the pocket, the offensive line continued to take a pounding by microphone. Everyone wants to know why it can't get it together.

"Somehow we're not quite getting it," guard Roberto Garza said, before offering some faint praise for the running game.

It wasn't just the offensive line that held the Bears back. Chicago had plenty of opportunities with good field position, but couldn't come up with the plays. In the first quarter, Manning picked off Derek Anderson, not a difficult thing to do, and returned it 35 yards to the Browns' 13.

For some reason, Garrett Wolfe got the call there and he ran once for 2 yards before Cutler threw two incomplete passes. Robbie Gould kicked his second field goal in a minute or so worth of official time to give the Bears an unassuming 6-0 lead.

Adewale Ogunleye forced a fumble on Cleveland's next drive, and the Bears got the ball back on the Browns' 46. The Bears had third-and-goal on the 3-yard line, but Cutler got sacked by Wimbley, leading to another Gould field goal.

Anderson threw two interceptions and the Browns lost three fumbles and converted just 1 of 11 third-down chances. Yet the Bears were only 2-for-7 in red zone efficiency and could have won by 40 if they played a good game.

"Things like that can't happen," Cutler said of the offensive mistakes. "All the three-and-outs, all the turnovers the defense got us that set us up in good field position, we've got to take advantage of stuff like that."

Beating the Browns, even with their suddenly ferocious front seven, isn't a harbinger for future success, especially with the way the Bears' offense never really clicked. But a win is a win is a win.

Can the Bears keep winning with Cutler taking this much abuse?

"I hope we don't find out," he said.

Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com. He can be reached at jgreenberg@espnchicago.com.

Jon Greenberg

Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com. He has lived and worked in Chicago since 2003, and is a graduate of Ohio University and the University of Chicago.

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