Cutler Needs to Perform Better in Big Games

Cutler Needs to Perform Better in Big Games
Marc Trestman brought the Bears offense into the modern era and helped Jay Cutler and Josh McKown become better Quarterbacks.

The legacy of a great quarterback is usually tied to how well he performs in the biggest games. Jay Cutler has yet to provide a signature moment in his career.

In eight years in the league he has just one playoff appearance and one playoff win. A few times he had his team on the brink of  a playoff spot but failed to lead them there.

His legacy in Chicago will be defined by interceptions, an inability to stay healthy and his injury and exit in the 2010 NFC Championship game.

Dan Pompei formerly of the Chicago Tribune examined Cutler's play in big games in September 2012. Pompei concluded that Cutler had 12 signature games as a Bear.

His success hasn't changed much since then. As the Bears fight for a playoff spot his play will be critical against Green Bay in Week 17. Cutler's play in must win games for his team didn't match up exactly with Pompeii's 12 most important games during his Chicago tenure.

Here is a look back at Cutler's key games dating back to his days in Denver. The focus is on the games down the stretch.

San Francisco 26 Denver 23 (OT), Week 17, December 31, 2006

All Denver needed was a win or tie against double digit underdog San Francisco at home. After taking a 13-0 second quarter lead, the Broncos saw San Francisco score 23 of the next 26 points.

Cutler returned after being knocked out of the game by his future Bears teammate Anthony Adams. He led the Broncos on a ten play 80 yard drive to tie the game with 90 seconds remaining.

The 49ers dominated the overtime. The Broncos managed only 24 yards on 11 plays and held the ball for just 5:36 seconds in the OT. San Francisco had the Ball for 7:20 and ran 15 plays for 77 yards.

Cutler finished the game 21-32 for 230 yards with a touchdown and interception. His lone int was returned 28 yards for a touchdown by former Bear Walt Harris that would give San Francisco the lead. They never trailed in the game again.

A Joe Nedney field goal with 1:56 left gave San Francisco the win and put Kansas City in the playoffs and sent Denver home.

After Denver lost, Brandon Marshall expressed his displeasure...

"Whenever you get on the 1-yard twice and in the red zone three times and you don't score no (Sic)  touchdowns that's pathetic"

2007 Season

There was not necessarily one game that did the Broncos in during the 2007 season. The Broncos began the season with two wins, then lost four of their next five to drop to 3-5. Cutler was knocked out of the Broncos 44-7 loss versus Detroit early. He returned the next week and led Broncos to wins the next two weeks over Kansas City and Tennessee.

Those wins pulled Denver into a first place tie with San Diego. The Broncos then proceeded to lose four of their next five, while the Chargers won six regular season games in a row to win the AFC West.

The losing streak ironically began with an overtime loss to the Bears at Soldier Field. In those losses, Cutler threw three touchdowns against five interceptions.

He finished the 2007 season with 20 touchdowns and 14 interceptions.

2008 Season

Cutler had the best season of his career in 2008, but his total stats did not tell the story. He finished the season with 4,218 yards, 25 touchdowns and 18 interceptions.

Denver started the season 3-0, lost four of the next five to fall to 4-4. They rebounded to win four of the next five to go to 8-5. With three games remaining, the Broncos led San Diego by three games. All they had to do was win one of the last three to win the division.

The last game of the season was at San Diego, so winning week 15 at Carolina or week 16 at home against Buffalo were critical.

Carolina 30 Denver 10, Week 15, December 14, 

After 106 yards and ten points on 19 plays in the first quarter, the Panthers defense shutout the Broncos and Cutler the rest of the way. In their next eight drives, the Broncos managed only 77 yards on 34 plays. They managed a meaningless 70 yard drive at the end of the game that did not result in points.

Cutler finished 21-33 for 172 yards with a touchdown and an interception.

Meanwhile, the Chargers rallied from a 21-3 deficit in Kansas City. They needed a recovered onside kick and a late touchdown to keep their faint hopes alive.

Buffalo 30 Denver 23, Week 16, December 21

After losing at NFC South Champion Carolina, the Broncos returned home to face 6-8 Buffalo. The Broncos took a 13-0 lead early in the second quarter. Buffalo outscored Denver 30-10 the rest of the way.

Unlike the game at Carolina, the Broncos were still successful at moving the ball the rest of the game, but were unable to finish drives. Three of their last five drives ended with a turnover or on downs.

Statistically Cutler had a good game against Buffalo. He finished 25-45 for 359 yards and an interception. He also had eight carries for 30 yards and two touchdowns. His quarterback rating was only 72.4, but his rushing success gave him a QBR of 84.7.

The Broncos were outscored 14-3 in the fourth quarter, blowing a 20-16 lead in the process. The defense certainly gets some blame, but Cutler's inability to finish the drives crippled the Broncos.

The Broncos loss was heightened by San Diego's 41-24 win at Tampa. The Chargers win coupled with Denver's loss set up a pseudo AFC West Championship game at San Diego's Qualcomm Stadium a week later.

San Diego 52 Denver 21, Week 17, December 28, 2008

After Denver came back from a 3-0 deficit to take a 6-3 lead, it was all San Diego from there on out. San Diego went on runs of 21-0, and two 14-0 runs to cap a remarkable comeback season.

Its hard to blame Cutler when the defense gives up 52 points, but he was unable to keep the Denver offense running with San Diego. His final stats were ok, but once again turnovers killed any chance at the playoffs.

Cutler finished 33-49 for 316 yards, one touchdown and two int's. They had three drives end with turnovers, two others end on downs and the final one end the game. Four of their drives that ended without a score accounted for 210 of the 406 yards that ended on turnovers, downs or the end of the game.

The loss was one that ultimately led to the Broncos reshaping the franchise. Mike Shanahan was fired and four months later Cutler was traded to the Bears. The Bears gave up two first round draft picks and the teams swapped other picks and considerations.

Bears 2009 Season

After a disastrous start 2009 season opener, the Bears ripped off  three straight victories. Cutler threw for 277 yards in his Bears debut, but was only 17-36 with one touchdown and four interceptions. The four int's were a career high. After the game, Cutler did not shy away from his Bears debut.

"There were a lot of failures," Cutler said. "We've got to go back and look at it. I think we're still going to be a good football team, there's no need to panic"

That would prove true for the next three games, but unfortunately not for the remainder of the season. During the three game winning streak, Cutler threw for 924 yards nine touchdowns and three interceptions.

A week later with a chance to improve to 4-1, the Bears collapses in the Red Zone did them in. Cutler finished with 300 yards, 2 tds, 2 ints and a QBR and QB Rating under 80 as the Bears fell to Atlanta 21-14 on Sunday night. That was the beginning of the end for the 2009 Bears.

Beginning with the Atlanta game, the Bears would go on a 3-9 tailspin. Cutler would throw for 11 touchdowns and 18 interceptions during that time. The Bears would their final two games to salvage a respectable 7-9 season.

2010 Season

The 2010 season began not too different from the 2008 season, The Bears began the season 3-0, then lost three straight to fall to 3-3. The Bears then ripped off a five game winning streak. Cutler had 10 touchdowns and five interceptions during that streak. They lost one game and then won the next two after that.

The Bears had already wrapped up a playoff spot when they travelled to Green Bay for the final game of the 2010 regular season.

Packers 10 Bears 3, Week 17, January 2, 2011 (2010 Season)

The Bears had clinched the NFC North Division title when the Bears and Packers met at Lambeau Field in Week 17 of the 2010 season. The Packers needed a win to get in the playoffs. The Bears still needed a win or Eagles loss to clinch a bye in the first round. Both games were 3:15pm CST kickoffs.

Cutler continued a string of poor performances in critical games. He was 21-39 for 168 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions. His Quarterback rating was a paltry 43.5 and his QBR of 8.4 even worse. In the Bears week three win over Green Bay, Cutler had an 82.5 and 78.4

The Bears were fortunate when Dallas defeated Philadelphia forcing the Eagles into the Wildcard game. The Bears chance to knock the Packers out of the playoffs would later come back to haunt them.

The Bears received their second break when ten point underdog Seattle upset New Orleans in an NFC Wildcard game. This sent the 7-9 Seahawks to Chicago and the Packers to Atlanta.

Bears 35 Seahawks 24, Divisional Playoff Game, January 16, 2011

The Bears took a 21-0 lead into halftime and then extended it to 28-0 before having to hang on the fourth quarter. A quick look at the stats shows Cutler having one of the best games of his career. The Bears scored 35 points, Cutler threw for 274 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 43 and another two touchdowns. He became only the second quarterback in NFL history to throw for two and run for two in a playoff game, Hall of Famer Otto Graham was the first. He finished the game with a QB Rating of 111.3 and a QBR of 983.

A closer look inside the stats sees that after Bears took the 28-0 lead, they managed only 109 yards on five drives. One ended with an interception on a halfback option play by Matt Forte, they scored one touchdown and had another end on downs. While they were always in control, they never truly put Seattle away until the victory formation on the drive.

Packers 21 Bears 14, NFC Championship, January 23, 2011

Probably the biggest game in the history of the Bears-Packers rivalry and the most polarizing in Cutler's Bears tenure. After completing just 6-14 for 80 yards with no touchdowns and an interception, Cutler left with what was diagnosed with an MCL sprain the day after the game. Three years later, some still question his toughness and continue to point to that game as an example. His quarterback rating was 31.4 and his QBR just 2.4.

The most well known of these was the tweet by Jacksonville running back Maurice Jones-Drew.

MJD was at the forefront of the controversy surrounding Jay Cutler's exit in the 2010 NFC Championship.

MJD was at the forefront of the controversy surrounding Jay Cutler's exit in the 2010 NFC Championship.

In the biggest game of his career, the Cutler led Bears could manage only 106 yards on seven drives. Their longest drive under Cutler was six plays, they had three three and outs and punted six times with one turnover.

2011 Season

Cutler was off to an outstanding start through ten games in 2011. The Bears were 7-3 and Cutler threw for 2,319 yards, 13 touchdowns and seven interceptions. In a 31-20 win against San Diego, Cutler broke his thumb while attempting a tackle on an interception. His broken thumb ended his 2011 season. The win against San Diego was the Bears fifth in a row.

Caleb Hanie started the next four games. The Bears lost those four plus one more to knock them out of the playoffs. Because of Hanie's ineffectiveness, the Bears signed McCown.

2012 Season

Behind an extremely opportunistic defense, the Bears began the 2012 season 7-1.  The defense scored seven touchdowns in the their first eight games. Game eight was a 51-20 victory at Tennessee. No defense could be expected to keep up that pace. The thought after that game was that the Bears were the favorite from the NFC to reach the Superbowl.

Packers 23 Bears 10, Week 2, September 13

Cutler went just 11-27 for 126 yards with four touchdowns and one interception. It was the Bears only loss in the first half of the 2012 season. He finished with a QB Rating of 28.2 and a QBR of 4.2. At least his QBR was almost double from the 2010 NFC Championship.

The Bears were shut out in the first half. They did not get into the end zone until late in the fourth quarter when they already trailed 23-3. They managed only 46 yards on five drives in the first half.

Texans 13 Bears 6, Week 10, November 11

On Sunday night football a week after the most impressive performance of the season, the Bears offense fell flat. Cutler didn't even make it to halftime against Houston. He was knocked out of the game in the second quarter with a concussion. He finished just 7-14 for 40 yards with two interceptions. The Bears offense managed just 93 yards in the first half.

Bears 28 Vikings 10, Week 12, November 18

The Bears bounced back a week later with a key victory over Minnesota. This game was won on defense as both teams finished with under 300 yards on offense.

Cutler finished 23-31 for 188 yards with one touchdown and one int.

The win improved the Bears to 8-2 and for the moment gave them the head to head tiebreaker with Minnesota.

Seahawks 23 Bears 17 (OT) Week 13, December 2, 2012

The Seahawks came to Soldier Field in a game matching teams in different directions. The Seahawks win over the Bears was their second straight of what would be a five game winning streak to end the regular season.

With Russell Wilson torching the Bears for 293 yards and two touchdowns through the air and 71 yards on the ground, Cutler and the offense could not generate enough in a critical home game.

Cutler's stats were solid with 233 yards, two touchdowns and no int's.  The Bears inability to put points on the board ultimately cost them the game. After 122 yards and seven points on their first two drives, the Bears managed just ten points on their last seven drives.

They moved the ball with 246 yards on those drives, but could not finish. This didn't include a drive that ended at the Seattle 14 in the first quarter.

Vikings 21 Bears 14, week 14, December 9

Having lost two of three, the Bears traveled to Minnesota with a chance to gain a stronghold on the NFC wildcard and keep pace with Green Bay in the NFC North.

Cutler finished 22-44 for 260 yards with one touchdown, two ints and a fumble. Both interceptions were critical. The first one gave Minnesota possession deep in Bears territory in the first quarter. The second was a Harrison Smith 56 yard pick six in the third quarter. That provided the Vikings with the winning margin.

The Vikings got off to a 14-0 lead on a pair of Adrian Peterson one yard runs in the first quarter. The Bears dug themselves a hole they were unable to get out of. They managed only 98 yards in the first half.

Cutler once again left the game early, this time with a neck injury. Campbell finished 6-9 for 64 yards and a touchdown. The final touchdown from Campbell to Marshall came with 1:48 left. Minnesota recovered the onside kick and ran out the clock.

The loss was the Bears fifth in six games and left them at 8-6 with two games left.

They had to win out and hope the Vikings lost once.

Packers 21 Bears 13, Week 15, December 16, 

Despite losing three of four, the Bears welcomed Green Bay to town with the division title still very much at stake. Green Bay entered the game 9-4, while the Bears were 8-5.

After an uneventful first quarter, the Bears got on the board first with a Cutler to Brandon Marshall 15 yard pass. That would be the only time the Bears reached the end zone all day.

Cutler finished 12-21 for 135 yards with one touchdown and one interception. His QB Rating was 79.5 and QBR 7.9. The Bears gained only 190 yards on offense. Cutler was also sacked four times for a losses of 28 yards.

His Green Bay counterpart Aaron Rodgers threw for 291 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions.

Weeks 16&17, Wins over Atlanta and Detroit

In the win over Arizona, Cutler finished just 12-26 for 146 yards with a touchdown and an interception. The Bears once again had to rely on the defense. Zach Bowman and Charles Tillman both scored defensive touchdown in a 28-13 victory.

The Bears had four three and outs and finished with just 297 yards of total offense. Their two scoring drives accounted for 152 of those yards.

In week 17, the Bears needed a win and a Minnesota loss to Green Bay to get their second playoff spot with Cutler under center.

The Bears jumped to a 20-3 first half lead. They had 178 yards in the first half. The Lions scored a touchdown before halftime to narrow the gap to 20-10.

Once again, Cutler and the Bears offense sputtered after halftime and failed to put the Lions away. They gained 175 yards in the second half, but it only produced six points.

However, the Bears had an impressive drive to run out the clock. Cutler had a critical 19 yard run on third and three to get a first down. That was followed by a Forte run on second and ten two plays later and the Bears were able to run out the clock after that.

Minnesota won later in the day and the Bears missed the playoffs despite finishing 10-6. A 10-6 record would normally be a successful season. After a 7-1 beginning, anything short of a trip to the Superbowl had to be deemed a failure.

Phil Emery and the Bears brass seemed to agree. Lovie Smith lost his job after nine years leading the Monsters of the Midway.

2013 Season

Division and conference games are the tiebreakers that can frequently determine playoff spots. Cutler's three worst performances this season came in those games.

Lions 40 Bears 32, Week Four, September 29

After a 3-0 start, the Bears travelled to Detroit riding high. Cutler finished with 317 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions. He also lost a fumble. He finished with a QB rating of 65.6 and a QBR of 35.6

As had been the case frequently in Cutler's tenure in Chicago the game was a tale of two halves. In this case, the Bears dug themselves into a 30-10 hole shortly before halftime.

After gaining 141 yards on their first three possessions, the Bears offense collapsed. Their next four possessions yielded -10 yards combined as the Lions pushed the lead to 20.

A fumble and interception in the second half in their own red zone turned Cutler into the turnover machine he was with the Bears in 2009.

Only two late touchdowns made the score respectable. That gave the Lions a head up in the NFC North.

Groin Injury and Quarterback Controversy

Cutler was inconsistent when he suffered a groin injury against Washington. Josh McCown came in to throw for 204 yards and two touchdowns in a 45-41 defeat to the Redskins. Cutler missed only a game and half with a bye in between. He returned for a critical game against Detroit November 10.

Lions 21 Bears 19, Week 10, November 10

Cutler returned and went 21-40 with 250 yards and one touchdown and one int. His groin was healed, but he hurt his ankle and his effectiveness got worse as the game wore on.

Cutler's last four drives yielded just 21 yards and three points. McCown came in and nearly led the Bears to tie the game late. The Bears scored a touchdown with 40 seconds left, but a two point conversion failed.

The Lions recovered the onside kick and ran out the clock.

Philadelphia 54 Bears 11

Cutler returned a week earlier in a game against Cleveland. With losses earlier in the day by Detroit and Green Bay, the Bears had a chance to clinch the NFC North.

The fell behind 14-0 when Philadelphia scored on their first two drives. Devin Hester fumbled on the kickoff return after the Eagles first drive. Cutler and the offense were in a significant hole before they even had the football.

The great quarterbacks find a way to get their teams of holes. While the defense and special teams did nothing to help, the offense was stagnant. They managed only 75 yards on their first four possessions. The Eagles had a 21-0 lead by that time.

Cutler finished with 222 yards and a touchdown and an int. His rating was 73.5 while his QBR was a paltry 15.4.

This was a game most expected to be a shootout. The Bears couldn't generate much offense against a defense that gave up 48 points to a Vikings team without Adrian Peterson and his backup Toby Gerhart.

Cutler's inability to lead his team in the most critical games of the season and his frequent problems with turnovers are his current legacy. At age 30, he still has time to turn that around.

John Elway did not win Superbowls until his last two seasons.

Sunday's game against Green Bay is arguably the second biggest in the history of the rivalry. This time Cutler needs to lead the Bears to victory and play well to complement his immense physical abilities.

 

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