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The biggest story is still the quarterback, and the biggest question is if John Fox will avoid assigning too much significance to Jay Cutler's 2015 stats.
As the Bears extended their run Sunday of brutally bad play at home to well over a season overall (losing nine of the last 10 games played at Soldier Field), somehow Jay Cutler emerged to rave reviews.
And if one only looks at his stats, it isn't surprising. He finished the 24-21 loss to Washington, the one that assured the 5-8 Bears will finish no better than .500 this year, with 19 completions in 31 attempts. He threw for two touchdowns, no interceptions and posted his second-best quarterback rating (117.0) of the season.
But he didn't win, again. After the game, Cutler likened the Bears' recent run of play to Groundhog Day.
One big difference: In Groundhog Day, a whole host of events occur no matter what Bill Murray's main character does. All he can do is try to ameliorate the negative consequences of those events. In real life, Cutler is the one doing the same thing over and over - to the same results. And without the happy ending.
In the past, shaky play-calling by seemingly over-matched offensive coordinators has been an excuse for Cutler's inability to translate his talent into wins. But at this point that has to be thrown out the window, doesn't it? Cutler has the power to change virtually any play call at the line of scrimmage. If a play fails, the coordinator should take some heat for calling it, but there always has to be the awareness that Cutler didn't have to run it. At other times, Cutler checks into the plays that don't work. Either way, it's ultimately on Cutler.
The quarterback's only turnover Sunday was a classic Jay Cutler play. In the speed of the game, it appeared as though a defensive end had slipped in on Cutler's blind side and slammed him down, dislodging the football for a fumble in the process. But the end didn't come in on Cutler's blind side. He blew around the end of the Bears' botched blocking scheme to Cutler's right, where a right-handed quarterback has to see a rusher coming.
If it had been a cornerback blitzing from the extreme outside maybe Cutler missing him would have been understandable. But this was an edge rusher, and edge rushers on the right side have to be in Cutler's field of vision. But he wasn't; Cutler gave up the football and Washington was well on its way to an early, two-touchdown advantage.
To a large degree, that fumble book-ended with the Bears' final possession to give fans a better picture of the quarterback's day. Cutler led the Bears on impressive scoring drives and made a bunch of great passes, especially when the undisciplined Washington pass rush allowed him to climb the pocket and move out to his right as he continued to scan the field. He also bounced back from several sacks. When I criticize him, I always feel the need to stress that whatever his other flaws, Cutler has always been as tough as nails and continues to be.
But with a second-and-7 at the Washington 32 with 1:57 remaining, Cutler tried to heave a deep ball down the left sideline to Alshon Jeffrey. The play was as well-covered as it could have been, and Cutler was lucky the ball wasn't intercepted.
The next play was Cutler's final throw, and it was especially irritating. He had the right idea, trying to hit Eddie Royal with a back-shoulder pass as he ran a well-covered route down the seam. If Royal had been more in sync with Cutler, he would have seen the pass earlier, stopped his route earlier and had a chance to make a big play.
But Royal had been out for more than a month due to injury before this game. Sure enough, the pass fell harmlessly incomplete. There were only about a thousand other, higher-percentage passes Cutler could have thrown during those last two plays. But he didn't. And when you look back at his Bears career, you realize he never has thrown enough smart passes. And that's why his team gets beat time and time and time again.
The basic Jay Cutler fact remains absolutely true: Every game he plays for your football team is another game further away from a championship.
Barring an absolute offensive collapse in the last three games, when the offseason rolls around, many voices will call for the Bears to hang onto Cutler again. After the Bears chose not to cut him (I don't think a trade was ever any sort of option; no one else wants that contract on the books), it not only guaranteed Cutler $15 million in 2015, it guaranteed him $10 million in 2016.
The best-case scenario will be a quarterback-desperate team like the Texans offering the Bears at least something for Cutler. Hopefully Fox and Ryan Pace will be smart enough to take the offer and start again.
Jim "Coach" Coffman is our man on Mondays. He welcomes your comments.
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