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For the first six games of the season, Jay Cutler was so determined to cut down on his interceptions that he was going to hold onto the football come hell or high water or halitosis. When things began to break down in the pocket he cared about one thing: Don't throw the ball to the other team.
I already miss that guy . . . even if it was clear he wasn't going to survive the season. The old, scary Jay (model 2009) returned on Sunday (in preparation for Halloween?) and in 30 minutes of football obliterated all the work the new Jay had done to rehabilitate himself.
In throwing four picks in the second half alone he displayed all the delightful deficiencies that made last season such a romp - the Grossman backpedal, the locking-in on one receiver until everyone in the stadium knew where the pass was going, and the throws to absolutely blanketed receivers who apparently should have been open (according to a petulant quarterback) if they had just run their routes well enough.
Let's take a break from making excuses for the guy for the next two weeks (the Bears have a bye next week) and hold the quarterback accountable. The offensive line stabilized for decent-sized stretches of the second half on Sunday, providing solid protection and opening holes in the running game. Cutler was under some pressure but did you see some of the hits that Donovan McNabb took (or the hit he takes in his Dr. Pepper commercial with former New York Giant defensive lineman Michael Strahan)?
I loved it when Minnesota coach Brad Childress officially stopped coddling Brett Favre earlier this season, at least for a little while, after someone asked him if he was worried about the punishment his quarterback was taking. The coach's response was something along the lines of "He's making enough money (a reported $18 million for this season alone)" to make the risk worth his while. In other words, he's rich enough that we're not going to cry for him.
You just wish you could climb inside Cutler's head sometimes and maybe start to figure out what the hell he's thinking when he throws passes like the second interception to DeAngelo Hall. The third and fourth picks were plenty annoying but interception No. 2 was the killer. With a chip-shot field goal and a seven-point lead there for the taking if he just heaves the third-down pass out of bounds, Cutler instead lobbed a prayer toward Johnny Knox near the sideline.
Knox is clearly the best Bear receiver but he is not the guy to throw it to for a jump ball (or on a well-covered slant for that matter but that was pick No. 3). Not that a jump ball was a good idea at this point but if you're going to throw one, you need to send it toward a big, physical receiver. It is clear that Knox is more of a small, speedy receiver, isn't it Jay? Devin Aromashadu is supposed to be the Bear receiver who can go up and fight for a reception like this one (or, I don't know, Greg Olsen? Olsen won a fight with linebacker Rocky McIntosh for just this sort of 50-50 pass in the fourth quarter?) but he has been so far back in the doghouse he has barely seen the light of the field for five weeks now.
One final note about Cutler's overall performance: In case his judgment and footwork weren't bad enough, Cutler also failed to throw tight spirals on numerous occasions down the stretch. It better be time for him to return to quarterback fundamentals boot camp next week.
Bound And Gagged
As for the quarterback's team, well. It needed only to split two home games against eminently beatable foes to go into the bye week with a far better seven-game record than anyone anticipated. No one was really surprised the Bears couldn't get the job done were they? Instead they fell into a tie for the top spot in the NFC North with an entirely predictable 4-3 record.
The Bears were thoroughly, brutally out-coached by Seattle's oh-so-inexperienced staff (a head coach who's been away from the NFL for a decade and coordinators who had never been coordinators in the NFL before this season) last weekend.
And then they managed to gag away the game against the Redskins on Sunday. How could the Bears blow a contest in which their offensive line played atrociously in the first half but still took a 10-7 lead into the intermission?
How could they blow a game in which the defense allowed all of 10 points, scored a huge touchdown and forced two second-half turnovers of their own (and punched out three more fumbles in the final two quarters that that Redskins - far more lucky than good - managed to recover)?
And how could they lose a game in which their foes were apparently happy to post a punting average of well under 30 yards per attempt in order to make absolutely sure Devin Hester didn't have a chance to bring one back?
One big way to lose it was to take another nightmarish trip with Lovie Smith into Challenge Land.
The two-play sequence at the end of the Bears' first possession after halftime was a big reason why Bear fans will never believe that Lovie is sharp enough to take their team back to the Super Bowl, let alone win it.
The coach deployed a doomed - and just plain stupid - challenge after the long pass completion from Jay Cutler to Earl Bennett took the ball inside the Redskin one-yard-line. An official had ruled the ball down on the one-foot line and the Bears were in perfect position to hand the ball to Chester Taylor three times and almost certainly score a touchdown.
Instead, despite the fact that replays almost always show that ball-carriers come down further back than they appeared to during real time, Lovie challenged the officials' decision that Bennett hadn't scored. When the challenge so irritatingly predictably failed, not only did the Bears lose a timeout, officials also re-spotted the ball a little further back, closer to the one than the goal line.
So on the next play, a quarterback sneak that was simply another brutally stupid coaching decision (why call a sneak for a quarterback who has already taken way too many shots to the head this season?), Cutler wasn't credited with a touchdown when he stretched the ball out in front of him. Smart football coaches know that side judges are rarely going to give a team with a touchdown when a quarterback does that. It is almost impossible for them to see the ball crossing the plane of the goal line. What is needed is a slow-motion replay to prove the ball made it to the line while Cutler still possessed it.
Sure enough, the goal-line camera showed the ball did cross the plane before the quarterback fumbled it. But Lovie was afraid to toss the challenge flag again because he had already blown a timeout on his dimwitted challenge the play before. I know my daughters think I'm nuts when I scream at the television at times like this - but how the hell (that's three "hell's" in one column - a new record) is a fan supposed to react to this kind of monumental incompetence?
I suppose the bye arrives not a moment too soon. There's no way Jay can throw even one more interception or Lovie can blow one more challenge next Sunday.
Even the notoriously uptight folks at NFL headquarters are making fun of this game. The official highlight reel:
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