On the John
Originally completed September 14, 2009
The passes zipped around all night. Incomplete to Earl Bennett. Thwap! Deep left to Hester for 20. Zwoom! Intercepted on a beautiful deep ball thrown to no one but Packers. Zwang! 68 yards to the hustling Johnny Knox. Vroom! Into the receptive paws of lineman Johnny Jolly. Kerplunk! Zoom-lofting a ball 36 yards to Hester for a score. Yippy!
He is the Orton replacement. The Rex replacement. The Miller, Kramer, Harbaugh, McMahon replacement. Take your Kevin Butler jersey, change one letter, and you’re good to go. He can throw ‘em with his eyes gouged, with his cleats dug in the turf, with both arms held by innovative defenders. His touchdown to Hester was undoubtedly among the prettiest balls I’ve ever seen from a Bear QB. The throw to Knox was a wrist-flick off his back foot with a forearm in his facemask that traveled 43 beautiful yards from release to catch. He hit Bennett and Hester on out routes with passes that traversed dangerous paths between Packer defenders and found nothing but white shirts awaiting.
All preseason, Bears fans were in awe of the man’s basic competence. “He looks really comfortable in the pocket,” my friend Sirota confided to us at the Bears-Giants game in August. “I love the way he sets his feet when he throws,” my dad announced while watching the hate-fest game in Denver. “Look how tall he is,” I kept saying all month long.
Yes: he threw four interceptions. Yes: during games, he seems (at least from this extremely distanced view) to live a moment away from tears. But incredible as it may sound, Abysmal Jay was not soooooo much worse than Good Rex. Even in a terrible game, the new guy somehow amassed 277 yards passing, placing him 12th on the list of single-game marks in the Lovie Smith era. Since 2004, Bears quarterbacks have notched 300 yards four times, the high being Griese’s 381 hung on the Vikings in the legendary Peterson v. Hester game.
Meanwhile, in two years as Denver’s full-time starter, Cutler hit the 300-yard mark ten times, including a 447 dropped on the Browns last November 6th.
For all the talk that the over-30 crowd lays on about McMahon, the Punky QB topped 300 yards in his career—are you ready?—THREE TIMES. And only once with the Bears. During his 15-year career, Number 9 exceeded 277 11 times.
This isn’t to bash Rex or Orton, to knock McMahon down a peg, or to take any other actions intended to boost the present by dissing the past.
And it’s not to say that 300 yards guarantees a win, or that passing yards and big plays are more important than the ground game and the pass rush.
But even if Cutler continues to seem as emotionally fragile as a four-year old who had his favorite He-Man repossessed, watching him perform on 16 blessed game days is sure to be an experience that Bears fans of all ages have never before been given. Heading into this 2009 season, nothing excited me more.
And with 15 games to go, I am still excited. Following last night’s meager 21-15 effort, what left me concerned was Orlando Pace, Frank Omiyale, and Chris Williams—in other words, the 60% renewed portion of our offensive line. Pass blocking, run blocking, it didn’t matter. They were steamrolled, giving Cutler no time and Forte no space. My hate-love-hate-hate relationship with Ron Turner’s play-calling continued in the hate direction. And when it was announced that Urlacher would miss the entire second half with a wrist injury, that seemed like nothing but bad news. Soreness to the neck, back, feet, or knees might leave a guy on the sideline so he can rest up for the following week, but a sore wrist should just be taped up, right? Something was wrong…
…and sure enough, Captain Urlacher went under the knife this morning and will miss the remainder of the season. Done for the decade, as it were.
And I hadn’t even learned how to pronounce ‘Pisa’ or ‘Tinoisamoa’ before our new starting strong side linebacker was on the bench with a knee. Dez Clark went down, as did Omiyale. Kevin Jones is gone. Peanut is not 100%. And something seems wrong with Nathan Vasher.
But Ogunleye was masterful, and Mark Anderson was everywhere. Danieal Manning seems in for a big year, and Al Afalava did little to disappoint. Dev Hester looked like a without-a-doubt number one, Greg Olsen is still 6’5 and fast, Bennett and Knox seemed NFL-ready.
Mostly though, be excited to watch Cutler. He makes throws that only professional Pro Bowlers make. He can fling ‘em deep and needle ‘em short. He needs only an instant to befuddle de-fenses. I don’t gasp every time he takes a hit. I don’t panic every time the pocket collapses. If he is chased, he can run. If he can throw, he can score.
There is reason to worry at Soldier Field this season. After last night’s debacle, there might be several. But I’m pretty sure Jay Cutler ain’t one of ‘em.
Copyright 2009, jm silverstein
Read Jack M Silverstein’s post-Bears column every week during the 2009 season!