Commentary

Cutler redeems himself in home debut

Avoiding the INTs that plagued him at GB, Bears QB calmly directs upset of Steelers

Originally Published: September 20, 2009
By Gene Wojciechowski | ESPN.com

CHICAGO -- Jay Cutler, still wearing his orange cleats, knee-high socks and grass-stained gamer pants, emerged from a side door, walked toward a small riser and podium, grabbed the railing alongside the two-step stairs and then nearly fell backward as the metal structure rose up like a see-saw.

Cutler glared, sort of good naturedly, at a Chicago Bears media relations official. Anyway, just imagine: Cutler survives the Pittsburgh Steelers, but almost gets sacked by a stair railing?

Anything is possible with the Bears, who could have been 0-2 Sunday if the Steelers didn't miss two fourth-quarter field goals and Cutler didn't dink and dunk Pittsburgh into submission. His game-winning drive moved the Bears from their own 33-yard line to the Steelers' 26, where with 15 seconds remaining Robbie (all together now: "Good as …") Gould did what Pittsburgh's Jeff Reed couldn't do: make a field goal when it counted.

Yes, it's good to be a Bear today. You just put up a 10-spot in the fourth quarter to beat the defending Super Bowl champions. Across the state border in Wisconsin, Chad Ochocinco was doing the Lambeau Leap (and getting the Lambeau Finger) as the Cincinnati Bengals stunned the Green Bay Packers. And best of all, someone paid the ransom money and returned Cutler -- the Pro Bowl version, not the interception machine of opening week -- safe and sound to Soldier Field on Sunday.

"Didn't throw four picks," said Cutler, when asked to explain the difference between Loss 1 and Win 1.

And there you have it -- the Cutler Nutshell Version of the Bears' 17-14 victory against the Steelers. Thing is, he's right.

Cutler didn't throw four interceptions. In fact, he didn't throw any interceptions. Instead, he completed 27 of 38 passes for a modest 236 yards, but two of those completions resulted in touchdowns. And it was Cutler who inched the Bears into Gould territory for the game-winning 44-yarder.

"It's Week 1 to Week 2," Cutler said. "It's kind of when you make the biggest jump. Guys were in sync."

A Sunday night ago in Green Bay, Cutler was so out of sync that Bears followers wondered if Rex Grossman had snuck back onto the roster. Cutler had those four interceptions. His quarterback rating was 43.2. And the Bears lost.

Against the Steelers he forced almost nothing. Nineteen of his 27 completions were for 9 yards or less. Only two of the completions gained more than 20 yards.

Cutler was patient, but Bears fans weren't. The boos, directed more at Chicago offensive coordinator Ron Turner than Cutler, could be heard late in the third quarter. By then the Bears trailed 14-7, the running game was on the inactive list (just 33 rushing yards) and Cutler had a grand total of 144 passing yards. The Steelers seemed in control.

Was Turner hesitant to let Cutler throw downfield? Or did he have Green Bay flashbacks every time he looked at his play sheet?

Doubtful. Otherwise, what was the point of giving up two first-rounders, a third-rounder and Kyle Orton in a trade with the Denver Broncos for Cutler?

"I think they brought me here for a reason," Cutler said. "I want the ball at the end of every game for a chance to win it."

He got it. With 3 minutes, 18 seconds remaining, he dinked it to tailback Matt Forte for 12 yards. He completed a 5-yarder to wide receiver Johnny Knox, and then another short gain to Devin Hester. Three short Forte runs followed, setting up Gould's field goal.

It wasn't New Orleans Saints-ish, but it was good enough to keep the Bears from joining the ranks of the 0-2s. Cutler is still without proper pass-receiving weapons. It's as if the Bears bought a Porsche, but put snow tires on it.

The rookie Knox (six receptions for 70 yards and a TD) had a nice game and tight ends Kellen Davis and Greg Olsen combined for eight catches, 79 yards and a score. But Cutler is still overqualified for this passing attack.

That could change as Knox, Hester and Earl Bennett grow into their jobs, but right now the Bears are a work in progress.

"I think our offense is getting better," Olsen said. "Obviously we're not where we need to be and not where we would expect to be. I think that's just a matter of everybody kind of getting used to each other and adjusting to some new things."

Olsen was 4-for-4 on his analysis. Then came an incompletion. Asked what was different about Week 2 Cutler compared to Week 1, Olsen said, "No difference. He plays well all the time. He's always in control. He does a great job. When we needed him at the end he made the plays."

Cutler hasn't played well all the time. And he hasn't always been in control. Just YouTube the Packers-Bears game. But everything was different against the Steelers.

"We believe in Jay," said center Olin Kreutz. "We know what Jay's capable of. All those interceptions weren't his fault. But he wasn't going to point that out. And we're not going to point fingers at everybody. We all know what kind of player Jay is and we stand firmly in his corner."

Without Cutler doing the calm, patient thing, the Bears don't beat the Steelers. They were already without team captain Brian Urlacher, who watched the game in street clothes and with a cast that stretched from his surgically repaired wrist to mid-bicep. It was both comical and sad to watch the star linebacker struggle to raise his right arm and cast in celebration.

Urlacher is gone for the season, but the Bears returned to the playoff chase with the victory. If you trust the numbers, an 0-2 start would have been crippling (since 1990, only 13.8 percent of 0-2 teams have reached the postseason). Instead, the Bears left Soldier Field with smiley faces and Cutler left with his first home victory.

"It means a lot," he said. "It means a lot to this team. We've had a lot of pressure and expectations on us since I got here."

On "us?" No, Jay, on you. Always on you.

Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at gene.wojciechowski@espn3.com. Hear Gene's podcasts and ESPN Radio appearances by clicking here.

Gene Wojciechowski | email

Columnist / College Football reporter

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