Commentary

Under the microscope

Coaches, teammates defend Cutler against criticism

Originally Published: September 16, 2009
By Melissa Isaacson | ESPNChicago.com

Let's face it. If the guy wins, he can dye his hair chartreuse and spout the leanings of Madhyamika Buddhism, and that would be just fine with Bears fans.

But when you toss four interceptions in your first game as quarterback for a city that views these things with significantly more concern than it would an impending plague, then yes, your every facial tic and every utterance is going to be scrutinized and yes, there is going to be some panic afoot.

[+] EnlargeJay Cutler on stage
Nick Friedell/ESPNChicago.comJay Cutler told Bears fans at an event Monday that "things will get better."

Should we care that Jay Cutler's postgame interview last Sunday was, in the view of two former veteran coaches, immature and unprofessional? Perhaps not. But Cutler's occasional petulant behavior is not isolated.

Last season, when a longtime network play-by-play man was in Denver to do some advance interviews with Broncos players and coaches for a nationally televised game, Cutler walked into the conference room, the hood of his sweatshirt pulled low over his eyes, laid his head down, ear on the table, and proceeded to mumble his way through the entire interview, never lifting his hooded head.

Afterward, the Hall of Fame broadcaster called it the most disrespectful display by a professional athlete he had ever seen.

Those kinds of stories and examples of disrespectful public behavior were prevalent in Denver, though we're hearing them more now than before.

"Chicago is probably going to stick [Cutler] with sharper blades," said Les Shapiro, morning talk show host on Mile High Sports 1510-AM and a Chicago native. "Because of his youth, we treated him with kid gloves, protected him publicly and things we knew didn't necessarily make it into the public realm."

Whatever the case, in a Wednesday press conference in which Cutler was either well-coached (which would have been a smart move by the Bears), or simply smartened up himself, he was darn near close to gracious.

"Four picks is tough," he said, referring to his performance in the Bears' ugly loss at Green Bay last Sunday. "That's a tough one to swallow. It's a tough one to go back and watch. But 15 games is a lot of football left, so that one is behind us. It's in the rearview mirror. There's nothing we can do about it now, so just we have to continue to keep working, keep getting better."

Asked if he saw the criticism coming, he replied, "You expect it and when you lose, that's tough because it gets magnified even more. If we win that ballgame and I play a little bit better, it's going to be a better outcome. The columns are going to be more positive. When you throw four picks, you're going to get criticized, you're going to get picked upon a little bit. That's as expected."

[+] EnlargeCutler
Nick Friedell/ESPNChicago.comJay Cutler may be facing criticism from former coaches and the media, but fans at an event Monday were supportive of the Bears quarterback.

But he said he hasn't read a word of it.

"We're worried about the Steelers right now," Cutler said.

And well they should be as they prepare to face the defending Super Bowl champs, still the best team in football until someone proves otherwise, in their home opener on Sunday.

Cutler tried to reassure the masses.

"Everyone has ups and downs in their careers," he said. "Most of the times when something like this happens, I usually bounce back. It's not going to get me down, it really isn't."

Still, there is this notion that somehow we should have expected this performance from him and even accepted it, because like any genius, he is prone to bouts of madness -- that the same terrific arm that has produced such miraculous passing will also occasionally result in balls thrown directly to his opponent.

It is this kind of reasoning that has no doubt contributed to the pampered Cutler. But throwing across his body into coverage is not what the Bears -- who traded away a serviceable starting quarterback, two first-round draft picks and a third-rounder -- or their fans should be expecting from a fourth-year veteran and Pro Bowl quarterback.

Nor should they have to tolerate a painful "learning process" and occasional fits of madness from a player who was supposed to make his young receivers better.

Those close to the Broncos make a point of saying that Cutler was not the guy shooting spitballs at the whiteboard during meetings. He was the first player in the complex in the morning, last one home. He watched more than his share of tape, worked hard in practice and even tried to rein in Brandon Marshall whenever necessary.

But off the field and during games, Cutler's lack of maturity was a real concern to Broncos management and head coach Mike Shanahan, who tried and failed to correct the behavior.

On Wednesday, Bears coaches and players came fiercely to Cutler's defense, coach Lovie Smith and particularly offensive coordinator Ron Turner flashing some annoyance at Mike Martz and Jim Mora for their critical comments on the NFL Network.

"If it had anything to do with leadership, it's totally, totally off-base," Turner said. "It's not right for people to say something if they're not right there, seeing what's going on. I could not be happier with him, and everybody in that locker room could not be happier with him, his demeanor, his leadership and the intangibles that he brings.

"I don't know where someone could say some of those things. People who've been in that locker room with him, been in meetings with him, been in the huddle with him, know what kind of leader he is. For someone to say something negative in that regard is totally, totally off-base.

"I don't care who said it and how much football they know. He's a tremendous leader. I've had receivers say he's as good a leader as we've had, and I've never had guys say stuff like that to me."

Bears receiver Rashied Davis called Cutler's demeanor "competitive."

"People like to pick on him because they say he's pouty or whatever," Davis said. "Shoot, everyone's bothered when they make a mistake. Not saying he made any but anybody, when stuff doesn't go right, they're bothered. No one walks around all hunky-dory when things are going wrong."

The men doth protest a little too much. But their loyalty is nonetheless a statement of sorts and perhaps Cutler is maturing as we write.

"No one around here is worried at all about Jay," said Greg Olsen.

And if the Bears win Sunday, Jay most certainly won't be worried about us.

Melissa Isaacson is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.

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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