On Sunday, during ESPN's Sunday NFL Countdown, Tom Jackson went on a mini tirade about Bears quarterback Jay Cutler that was as needless as it was brainless. Here was a grown man dispatched into sputtering agitation by a 10-second clip of another guy walking into a stadium. We've been down this road many, many times before with Cutler, whose (alleged) petulance and (apparent) aloofness have a way of encouraging the worst impulses of analysts like Jackson.
The shame of it is that in so many other ways Cutler is a pundit's kind of quarterback, the sort of flinty-eyed leader whose manly virtues make Peter King's socks roll up and down all Sunday afternoon. Consider his performance in the Bears' 28-10 victory over the Vikings, which came just two weeks after Cutler sustained a concussion while absorbing a face-crushing tackle against the Texans. I picked out three plays from Sunday that, had they come from any other quarterback, would've been shown on a loop on ESPN while Chris Berman sang hosannas and Tom Jackson plucked at his harp.
First, there was the throw Cutler made on the Bears' third drive of the game. He took a second-down snap from the 15-yard line, didn't see any of his receivers open, and then threw ball anyway, right between two Vikings defenders and into the hands of Kellen Davis, who was brought down at the goal line. Davis was barely moving when Cutler threw the ball, and was not open in any sense of the word. It was a balls-out rocket of a throw by a quarterback operating inside the red zone, and it set up his team for an easy touchdown.
Then came Cutler's lone touchdown pass of the day, a play that once again was the direct result of his ability to find a sliver of space in which to throw the ball. Rolling to his left, aware that Jared Allen was bearing down on him from the strong side, Cutler turned his shoulders toward the end zone, fired another perfectly located bullet toward the sideline that only a blanketed Matt Spaeth could get his hands on, and accepted yet another crushing hit from Allen.
Just as noteworthy, although far less consequential to the final score, was Cutler's five-yard scramble toward the end of the first quarter. Once again running to his left, Cutler hugged the sideline as Vikings cornerback A.J. Jefferson sized him up for a big hit. Rather than skip out of bounds and avoid contact, though, Cutler laid a wicked stiff arm on Jefferson, driving him into the turf as the two barreled out of bounds. Still standing, Cutler then flipped the ball into Jefferson's chest, earning himself an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.
Am I cherrypicking? Sure, but no more than anyone plumbing the depths of a man's soul based on 10 seconds of video shot in a parking garage. I can think of only a handful of quarterbacks in the NFL capable of the two throws described above. Quarterbacks have been called "gunslingers" for less. And that stiff arm was the kind of play that a pundit might otherwise readily attribute to a football tough guy who's willing to "hit you in the mouth."
Cutler does stuff like this all the time, and yet we are stuck having to listen to arguments about whether or not he "gets it" (oh he gets it all right), about whether or not he "knows how to be a leader"—this in a league that reckons Ryan Lindley a viable starting quarterback. Cris Carter felt comfortable referring to Cutler as a mere game manager in this bit of postgame analysis. Managing the game? Fuck that. Cutler returned to a Bears team that had been blown out the previous week and turned it into a football team worth watching. He was the game.