I don’t want to put too much emphasis on one win, especially in a September game, but if the Bears go on to make the playoffs, the turning point of the season likely occurred during the second quarter of Sunday night’s stunning 28-20 victory over the San Francisco 49ers.
Trailing 17-0, the Bears were trying to put together their first decent drive of the game when quarterback Jay Cutler was smashed in the chest by the crown of 49ers defensive lineman Quinton Dial’s helmet after releasing a pass.
The play drew a roughing-the-passer penalty, but it appeared the Bears would end up paying a higher price than the 15 yards marked off against the defense. Cutler, who was knocked back a few feet by the force of the blow, was kneeling on the ground doubled over in pain as the penalty was marked off. Backup Jimmy Clausen started to warm up and I thought Cutler would have to go to the sidelines for at least a play or two to recover.
But the Bears’ much-maligned quarterback struggled to his feet, fought through the pain and stayed in the game. Two plays later, he found Brandon Marshall for a 17-yard touchdown pass -- Marshall made an unbelievable one-handed grab -- to begin the comeback.
From that point on, the Bears were a different team. Cutler’s toughness seemed to inspire the rest of the team and shake them from their early-game doldrums.
I can’t think of any good player who’s been as criticized by his home-team fans as Cutler. His successes are brushed off and his mistakes dwelled on.
During his time with the Bears, Cutler hasn’t been the best quarterback in the NFL, or even in the top 5, for that matter. But there’s no question that he’s been in the group of quarterbacks just after that.
But according to many Bears fans, Cutler is horrible and management was stupid to re-sign him to a big contract during the offseason. In fact, I talked with two fans moments before kickoff Sunday who shared that opinion.
I couldn’t resist, so I asked one: OK, so what should the Bears have done to solve their quarterback issues in the offseason? Silence. He had no respond.
The irrational Cutler hate needs to stop. Sure, he’s not perfect and can make some maddening decisions, but he’s one of the better quarterbacks in the league and the Bears and Cutler are married together for at least the next few years, so the Bears can’t be successful unless he plays well.
I wrote before this season that I believed Cutler was headed for a special season and those feelings are stronger after Sunday night’s game. Cutler was both mentally and physically tough. He threw for only 176 yards, but had four touchdowns and no interceptions. Those numbers are even more remarkable considering that Marshall and fellow wide receiver Alshon Jeffrey were playing with injuries.
But after Cutler took the big hit and stayed in the game, both receivers seemed to shake off their injuries and played better.
Cutler may not be Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers or even Drew Brees, but he proved Sunday that he’s a better leader than he’s given credit for being.
So let's stop dwelling on Cutler’s mistakes and focus on his successes.
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Here's ESPN's "First Take" talking about Cutler and the Bears, plus a look at Dial's hit:
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