Commentary

'Innocent bystander'

NBC announcers feel sorry for Orton in the Cutler-Broncos drama

Originally Published: August 30, 2009
By Melissa Isaacson | ESPNChicago.com

It was at some point shortly after Kyle Orton had left the game with his finger owie, giving way to Denver backup quarterback Tom Brandstater, when NBC's Cris Collinsworth could no longer contain himself.

[+] EnlargeKyle Orton
Ron Chenoy/US PresswireKyle Orton finds himself stuck in the middle of the Cutler-Broncos soap opera.
"Scary," Collinsworth began on Sunday night's nationally televised preseason game, and you weren't sure if he meant Orton, Brandstater, the bloody finger or the entire Broncos' organization.

"Don't you feel like the Denver Broncos were just impatient with Jay Cutler?" Collinsworth nearly sputtered. "I mean, who cares if he was upset?"

It's still hard to grasp, even weirder with Orton and Cutler on the same field but seemingly wearing the wrong jerseys, like the fantasy sequence of some drunken Chicago Bears fan.

Broncos fans were angry at Cutler. Even a bit deranged, as proved before the game in a shot of two locals sucking on pacifiers, dressed in baby bonnets and diapers. But clearly it is the Broncos who have been pantsed, and no matter what happened as the two teams met in the third week of the exhibition season at Invesco Field, it was only going to remind every football fan in America how inconceivable the Cutler trade still is nearly five months later.

"It was so bizarre … I can't think of a parallel situation in sports in recent times," said Collinsworth's broadcast partner, Al Michaels.

Certainly, it had to boost NBC's ratings as the teams traded extracurricular hits and Cutler looked legitimately shaky as well as cranky early on as he struggled to get calls in from the bench.

In between images of Bears defensive tackle Tommie Harris limping through plays and offensive tackle Orlando Pace getting exposed by Denver's Elvis Dumervil, Cutler was nearly flattened in his own end zone as Broncos defenders danced around in a desperate attempt to create some enthusiasm.

But for Broncos fans, there can't be much.

The Bears' 27-17 victory could not have been nearly as painful as seeing their former quarterback deftly gliding around the pocket in the first half. Cutler found six different Bears receivers for 144 yards on 15-of-21 passing, including a 6-yard touchdown toss to Matt Forte to cap a 12-play, 98-yard drive toward the end of the half.

There were the cutaways to Denver's 33-year-old coach, Josh McDaniels, in his Bill Belichick hoodie, and more exasperation from the booth.

"A brand-new coach," said Michaels. "You think he would come in and not tiptoe, but that there would be constant communication before it got out [that McDaniels was interested in possibly bringing in New England quarterback Matt Cassel]."

Poor Kyle Orton. They called him an "innocent bystander," minding his own business in Chicago and not realizing that another team's dysfunction would soon exert more pressure on him than he had ever experienced behind Rex Grossman.

"This will follow [Orton] his entire career, too," said Collinsworth.

You know Orton (12-for-16 for 96 yards) had to be standing on the Denver sideline as Forte scored from 1 yard out on a handoff from Cutler in the second quarter and thinking, "Well, yeah, sure. He has Devin Hester."

Hester set up the score with his 54-yard punt return, his longest since 2007. And it produced the first smile of the night for Cutler.

"There are great systems," Collinsworth said, referring to Denver's under McDaniels, "but great players trump great systems."

After Cutler was packed in cotton and carefully removed from the game at halftime; after you realized that the Bears are still missing too many tackles and the secondary is still suspect; after viewers saw Olin Kreutz looking vulnerable; NBC flashed those glittering numbers.

Cutler set Broncos single-season passing records with 4,526 yards, 384 completions and eight 300-yard passing games last season. NBC showed John Elway's name inscribed in the Broncos' ring of honor and it was not necessary to say whose records were broken.

"My answer would've been, 'You can retire if you want,'" said Collinsworth, role-playing the part of Broncos' owner Pat Bowlen, "'but I will never trade you. You will retire a Denver Bronco.'"

The boos accompanied Cutler off the field. So too did a bodyguard. But the Bears' quarterback got the last laugh.

"I'm happy I'm in Chicago," Cutler told NBC. "We got a great thing going right now and we just need to keep heading that way."

Melissa Isaacson

Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
Melissa Isaacson is a columnist for espnW.com, ESPN Chicago and ESPN.com. The award-winning writer has covered Chicago sports for most of her 31-year career, including at the Chicago Tribune before joining ESPN in 2009. Isaacson has also covered tennis since 1986.

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