Care-free so who cares?
Bears' 'big' win only shows how wrong this season went
DETROIT -- Jay Cutler's face told the story.
DETROIT -- Jay Cutler's face told the story.
For a guy used to losing, he sure doesn't know how to enjoy a meaningless win.
The once-celebrated, much-maligned quarterback was walking off the field after a four-touchdown season-ending victory over the vaunted 2-14 Detroit Lions, with a familiar dour expression, when he turned to acknowledge a gesture or a kind word of some sort.
It looked as if someone told him "Nice game" or "7-9 is almost a winning season!" Cutler, the president of the Chicago chapter of Veterans of Metaphorical Losing Wars, just gave that tried-and-true sarcastic sneer, like it didn't really matter anyway. Hey, no one's ever accused the guy of being a sphinx out there.
You want to muss up his hair and say, "Come on, Jay, enjoy this one. You don't beat Detroit every day!" But his sneer was right on in this case.
Cutler was asked later if the team's mind-blowing two-game winning streak was a cause for optimism going into the offseason.
"No," he said evenly. "We didn't accomplish our goals. There's still a lot of work we have to do."
The first thing is to figure out who will be coaching him next year. Cutler, like the rest of his teammates, has no idea what's going to happen this week or next. He just has to wait and see.
"I don't know," he said. "I was in a situation in Denver where we didn't expect much change, and there was a complete overhaul. You just don't know."
After the game, no one cared about a 37-23 win over Detroit and Daunte Culpepper. Understandably, embattled coach Lovie Smith wasn't in the mood to predict the future.
"Right now," Smith said of his staff, "today all we're concentrating on, as much as anything, is our big win."
Smith would go on to make more important, more honest assessments in his postgame presser, but he lost me for a second there. I never thought I'd have to pull out a dictionary to define something a football coach said, but I had to check: Did I know the meaning of the word "big"? So like any reporter, I checked it out.
big -- adjective 1. Something accomplished that was completely unexpected and worthy of reflection. Example: Beating the hapless Detroit Lions is a big victory, if you're a Pop Warner team.
Sorry, Lovie; this win wasn't big. Houston scoring 21 unanswered points to beat New England to stay alive for a playoff berth? That's big. Beating Detroit is expected if you're breathing. Heck, beating Minnesota wasn't big. It wasn't, as Devin Hester said in all seriousness, "the starting point for our successful end of the season." This wasn't the final play of the fourth quarter of a winning game. Beating the Lions was like finishing off a 44-7 loss with a 1-yard touchdown run.
Before this game, an expected positive end to an unexpected dreadful season, all I could think of was "It's all over but the shoutin'." This game had little meaning aside from avoiding what would have been a fitting end.
And surely if the McCaskeys are going to make changes, Papa Bear willing, neither of these past two weeks should matter much to their decision.
Winning these last two isn't a harbinger for next season. It shows that this team played better when it wasn't under any pressure. Once it got to nine losses, all the tension just melted away.
The only positive you can take from the past two weeks is that Cutler didn't implode any further. It's been a rough year for the guy unfairly pinned as the successor to Sid Luckman. Instead of breaking Luckman's good records, he challenged his franchise record for most interceptions in a season (31). With his curtain-call performance, Cutler cut down his picks and wound up with a plus-one touchdown-to-interception ratio: 27 to a league-leading 26.
"That's hard to do," Cutler said of his plus-1. "We've got to get that other number down. That's the bottom line."
Pinpointing the reason for Cutler's meltdown, coming off a Pro Bowl season in a grown-up offense, has been a full-time job for football reporters. It's the "Who shot Kennedy?" of sports talk radio. Was it the line? Was it the play calling? Were the receivers running wrong routes? Did he just bomb? Will they replace quarterbacks coach Pep Hamilton with Moxie Johnson?
The answer the Bears come up with to rectify Cutler's performance over the long haul will decide the immediate future of this franchise. It's obvious there was a lack of chemistry for the offense this season and that Cutler didn't have enough weapons to cover his risky throws.
One late addition that helped the offense tremendously is Devin Aromashodu. Cutler has been touting the 6-foot-2 Auburn product since the preseason, but he was stuck on the inactive list, behind Johnny Knox, Earl Bennett and Hester -- all of whom had good starts -- and Rashied Davis, who plays on special teams.
Aromashodu, who was stat-less for the first eight games, caught five passes for 46 yards and two touchdowns in this game. Over the past four, with one bad game thrown in, he caught 22 passes for 282 yards and four scores.
"He's got a future, definitely," Cutler said.
Maybe Cutler should have some input on the roster. Or the play calling.
His immediate boss, offensive coordinator Ron Turner, is a likely candidate for the coaching guillotine. The coaches are meeting Monday, and none are being made available to the media. Always an interesting sign. Turner waved off questions about his return, though when asked directly if he thinks he did enough to come back, he replied in the affirmative.
Smith, who said changes need to be made "top to bottom," wasn't so direct when he was asked, specifically, if Turner did a good enough job to return next year.
"I think all of us didn't do as good a job as we needed to," he said. "And let's start with me. As head coach I didn't do as good a job as I needed to and it trickles down to the coaches, players and everyone involved in our organization. We didn't do as good a job as we needed to get back to where we belong."
That's a long-winded way of saying no.
And I think when it comes to evaluating Cutler, it's fair to say his Bears debut season wasn't all his fault. But it's fair to say a lot of blame for this season falls on his shoulders. And to his credit, Cutler hasn't passed the blame onto anyone else. The Bears, for all their faults, have handled this season like men. They haven't fractured or pointed fingers. A lot of that has to do with how they feel about Smith, who treats them like adults.
To a man, the Bears defended their coaches in the locker room. Yes, a couple of weeks ago, Hester said he knows there will be changes in the staff, but he was one of many who said the players should be pilloried for the team's failures.
"It's all on the players," Hester said. "The coaches make great calls, and we've got to go out make plays."
Alex Brown -- as eloquent and classy a team spokesman as you can find -- agreed.
"We have to go out and play," he said. "There's so much a coach can do. They call the play and it's up to us to go out and execute. I think the players should be held accountable for what's done on the field."
Even in the NFL, it's true that "You can't fire the players." Pretty soon, we'll see if the Bears can fire their coaches. We won't have to wait long. I can almost hear the shoutin' already.
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.
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