It was a feel-good Monday night in Chicago, a relatively dominant 20-10 win over the division-leading Vikings, but the truth is none of that really matters for the Bears. Even with the victory they’re 2-6, not going anywhere, and the team has reportedly hired an “outside consultant” for a full evaluation of its football operations, including embattled head coach John Fox. There will be no playoffs this year, and likely big changes in the offseason, so as nice as that win felt, its biggest implications were nonlocal: That was a job audition for Jay Cutler.
Cutler will almost certainly be released after this season, as his dead cap money drops from $19 million to $3 million, and as the Bears enter in earnest their rebuild, which will not include a 33-year-old quarterback. And he will almost certainly sign somewhere else for major money, because as he reminded everyone last night, when healthy he can still be very, very good.
Making his return from a five-game absence with a sprained thumb, Cutler was 20 for 31 for 252 yards and one touchdown, and while there’s plenty of credit to go around—rookie RB Jordan Howard had the best game of his young career, and the Bears pass rush abused a disastrous Vikings O line and wrecked Sam Bradford’s shit—there was a lot to like about Cutler’s night, perhaps especially how eager he was to find his favorite weapon, Alshon Jeffery.
Maybe a little too eager:
Jeffery has been deeply and vocally frustrated with the Bears’ inability to find the end zone and Brian Hoyer’s willingness to risk throws deep, and Cutler is just the man for both of those things. Even with Jeffery matched up against excellent corner Xavier Rhodes, Cutler was more than happy to put up a jump ball, which Jeffery came down with for 34 yards. On that same third-quarter drive, Cutler found Jeffery with a dart in the end zone for the receiver’s first touchdown of the season.
Despite some shade thrown John Fox’s way, Cutler’s return was celebrated by his teammates, who couldn’t have been happier to have their starting QB back and running the offense. “We rally behind that guy really well,” tackle Charles Leno Jr. said. Players raved about a speech Cutler delivered before the game, in which he spoke about effort and motivation and finding a way to make those last a full 60 minutes.
“It was about inspiration,” Cutler said. “Everyone in there is from different backgrounds, different cultures, societies, family lives and schools. Whatever it takes to find that inspiration because motivation usually wears off at some point during the game. Those guys played inspired football, so it was fun to be a part of.”
This is Cutler’s eighth season in Chicago, and there’s been as much strife as success, and both sides are probably ready for it to be the last. And anyway, the sheer cost of Cutler will probably make a return untenable. He’s a good, useful veteran quarterback, just the thing for a team (the Jets) that think a quarterback is the last thing separating them from being a contender. (Minnesota, despite all their other problems, would probably kill to have Cutler this season.) He’ll land somewhere (the Jets), and he’ll put up good numbers, and his receivers will love him, and his fans will be alternately thrilled and exasperated, and he’ll probably eventually find himself in some sort of quarterback controversy. It’s the circle of life. This is a half-season valediction for Cutler in Chicago, and I hope everyone there enjoys themselves. Lord knows it hasn’t been easy.