By Shane Nicholson
Love him or hate him, Jay Cutler is 1) the starting quarterback for the Chicago Bears; and 2) pretty damn good at the job.
The oft-maligned slinger was smokin’ in the final minutes of last Sunday’s win over the Chiefs, finding Marquess Wilson with 3:05 left to play, the final movement of an 11-play, 88-yard drive.
Just a minute later, Cutler would take the field to lead the Bears (2-3) to the game-winning score, a 7-yard pass to running back Matt Forte with 18 seconds to play. From 6-17 to 18-17 in just a matter of mere minutes.
“From the very beginning, as far as learning the offensive system and some of the accountability it takes at the quarterback position, he’s been all-in and worked real hard with the offensive staff learning the system and putting the time it takes to execute it,” head coach John Fox said on the Bears website.
“We’re still six months into it from just a learning aspect, not even a practicing aspect, but I like what I’ve seen and I expect him to get better moving forward.”
Getting better would be made easier if any of his top three wideouts were available. But first-round pick Kevin White was lost for the season before it even began; Eddie Royal hasn’t seen the field since injuring his ankle in Week 4 against the Raiders; and Alshon Jeffery’s status remains mostly a mystery thanks to the tight-lipped Fox.
“If they’re healthy, they play. If they’re not, they won’t,” he told the Chicago Tribune Thursday. Thanks for clearing that up, John.
On deck, the feckless and winless Detroit Lions, coming off another Matt Stafford deer-in-headlights performance against Arizona.
The Lions QB has thrown two touchdowns against five interceptions the past three weeks as his team continue their quest to prove the Bears may not be the worst team in the division.
Stafford for his troubles was benched in the third quarter of their 42-17 throttling at the hands of the Cardinals, who rattled off 35 unanswered points after the Lions jumped out to a 7-0 lead. Detroit’s sputtering offense is now 30th in the league in scoring and dead last in running the ball, averaging just 49 yards a game.
But despite their myriad problems–including a league-leading 15 turnovers–the Lions are confident of turning it around Sunday at home.
“More guys understanding what it takes on offense to have a good play and that’s 11 guys doing the right thing all the time, full effort, assignments sound and that’s what it’s going to take,” Stafford said. “Until we get that … hopefully that happens really fast.”
The bookies seem to think they could get it just that fast, making the Lions 3-point favorites on the opening line. The Bears certainly aren’t taking the 0-5 Lions for granted.
“They’ve got a great offense,” outside linebacker Pernell McPhee told chicagobears.com. “They’ve got weapons. We’re not going to take them any more lightly than we take anybody else.”
“They just have struggled a little bit,” defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said. “They’ve played some really good defenses and it just hasn’t worked out for them. But they’re still very capable of winning a lot of games during the season.”
The Bears have to hope they can keep the positive trends on their end going, and keep the Lions from breaking their own downward spiral. And Cutler will need to continue to play the experienced, sure-handed leader of an offense lacking in firepower.
If that happens, what looked like a lost season for Chicago may yet turn into the first playoff push of the Fox era.
Bears at Lions: noon, Sunday, on FOX.