Commentary

Bucking tradition

Bears actually are looking to their quarterback to win games

Originally Published: September 27, 2009
By Melissa Isaacson | ESPNChicago.com

These are games the Bears would have lost before Jay Cutler. Seattle on Sunday. Pittsburgh last week. How many times we end up saying that will determine the kind of season the Bears have, because it's pretty clear now what we're looking at.

[+] EnlargeJay Cutler
Otto Greule Jr/Getty ImagesThe Bears finally have a quarterback in Jay Cutler who always gives them a chance to win games.
This team has some serious liabilities. And they will survive by the grace of Cutler.

It is a foreign concept, to be sure, believing the Bears will win if they just keep it close in the fourth quarter. But this is the kind of team they are shaping up to be.

They miss too many tackles. They run block just fine if the object is to run backward. They are showing a propensity to make very little look easy. And yet, for the first time in forever, their quarterback gives them a chance to win every game.

In Sunday's 25-19 victory over Seattle, in which the Bears trailed 13-0, scored 17 unanswered points and scored the game-winner with 1:52 remaining -- Cutler to Devin Hester for a 36-yard touchdown -- the Bears looked to Cutler to save the day.

Should Cutler have had to save the Bears against a team missing seven starters, including its quarterback? Should they have struggled against the 26th-ranked run defense in the league? Bears head coach Lovie Smith sounded almost offended when it was suggested that Sunday's victory was less than gorgeous.

"Every win I've ever been a part of is pretty," Smith said. "When we end up with more points than they do, it's a great win for us. But it says a lot that we kept fighting, that's what great teams do."

It's also what very good quarterbacks do. On Sunday, Cutler was 5-for-5 for 60 yards, a touchdown and no interceptions in the fourth quarter. Last week against the Steelers, Cutler was 9-for-10 for 92 yards, a touchdown and no picks in the fourth.

Against Seattle, Cutler completed 21-of-27 passes for 247 yards, threw three touchdowns, one interception and had a quarterback rating of 126.4. He has so quickly instilled a warm, tingly feeling in his teammates and coaches that Smith even sounded offended by the notion that his clutch play should need to be confirmed.

"He's a good player, he's been a good player," Smith said. "It's not like he, all of a sudden [he became good]. This is Jay's background. He's been in situations like that.

"You judge good quarterbacks based on what they can do late in the game. Jay wants the ball in his hands, he had a good look about him, knowing that we had to go down and score. We all had confidence that he would lead us."

Hester might just become the No. 1 receiver the Bears insist he is with Cutler looking out for him. Hester was especially impressed with Cutler's ability to keep his wits about him when the play calls in his helmet were drowned out by the Qwest Field crowd.

"He showed a lot of poise and kept our composure," Hester said. "He stepped in, said, 'Let's keep our heads, we have two minutes left in this game. Let's pull this game out.'"

Hester, who caught five passes for 76 yards and a touchdown, is clearly improving but should still accept Cutler's backhanded compliments gladly.

"He's shown me something since I first got here," Cutler said of Hester. "When I first got here, they said he didn't know the playbook, he couldn't get out of cuts, he had trouble catching the ball, and all that's been false since I first arrived here.

"He's worked as hard -- if not harder -- than everybody in that room to get ready for this season. He's really driven. He wanted the ball a lot today. He was always in my ear: 'I got it. Give it to me.' Sometimes it was there, sometimes it wasn't. But whenever we called his number he came up big for us."

It was a game in which right behind Cutler for MVP honors stood Smith for throwing the red flag late in the first half, reversing the official's ruling that Bears running back Matt Forte fumbled at the goal line.

And right behind Smith is Bears offensive coordinator Ron Turner, who gave Cutler the choice of call on fourth and inches, when Cutler found Greg Olsen in the end zone to make it 13-7. Seattle still led, but that play started to swing the momentum in the Bears' favor.

It was a game in which the Bears had about a 50-50 run to pass ratio, and got their first and only rushing first down in the fourth quarter on a 6-yard gain by Forte. Forte ran the ball 21 times for 66 yards and was more than gracious afterward.

"We were pretty close to breaking a few long ones," he said. "It's my fault, I have to pick up my feet a little better."

The run blocking is a problem, one that Turner concedes when he says, "We have to get better and we will get better."

But it is also one that Turner, Smith and Cutler all cover when they say, as Smith did, "I just want to see plays that find a way to win the football game, and that's what we've been doing. There's nothing wrong with the pass. I'd like to be known as a running team that can pass the ball. Hopefully, that's our rep."

Give the Bears' defense credit for once again forcing two turnovers. Give Cutler and the offense credit for converting them into 10 points. Their rep is no secret.

The Bears will live and die by Cutler this season.

Don't be surprised if it nearly kills us in the process.

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.