On the NFL
8:10 PM CDT, October 28, 2012
Whether you want to call him Mr. Clutch or Mr. Double Clutch probably depends on whether you call the glass half-full or half-empty.
Truth be told, Jay Cutler was a little of both Sunday.
All that matters is he came to play in the fourth quarter and did what the Bears needed him to do to win the game.
On the final drive, he was a surgeon, slicing up the Panthers, cracking open their rib cage and going directly for the heart.
On that march, Cutler completed 6 of 7 passes for 52 yards, taking advantage of the Panthers' soft quarters coverage with a variety of slants and quick throws to set up Robbie Gould's game-winning 41-yard field goal as time expired that gave the Bears a 23-22 victory.
"We had a lot of time," Cutler said. "They were playing one coverage and we just kept hitting them and hitting them and hitting them."
Cutler's throws might not have been as impressive as his leadership late in the game. More than anything, it is leadership that wins games like this one.
Asked what was different on the last drive, receiver Brandon Marshall said, "Cutler."
He recalled watching Justin Medlock kick a field goal with 2:27 remaining that put the Panthers up by two points.
"I'm sitting here shaking, a little bit of the cold weather, a little bit nervous," Marshall said. "And (Cutler) just starts smiling. ... It just put me at ease right away. The guys feel that vibe and they play off it. So Jay definitely led that whole drive and made us pick up our game."
But that was after three quarters of a performance that might not have won a game at Gately Stadium last weekend, let alone Soldier Field.
Through the first three quarters, Cutler had a 37.8 passer rating, three turnovers and contributed greatly to six sacks.
He would not blame it on whatever damage Ndamukong Suh did to his ribs. And he did not point fingers at receivers or blockers or coaches.
"I didn't play well," he said. "It starts with me."
The Bears' first drive ended with a Cutler interception that should have been a touchdown. Marshall had beaten rookie corner Josh Norman deep, but Cutler underthrew him. Norman picked it off at the Carolina 3.
Cutler also coughed up the ball twice on fumbles when he was hit.
It seemed you nearly had enough time to soft boil an egg in the time Cutler held the ball on some plays. He repeatedly was unaware of the mayhem that was about to engulf him. Cutler had opportunities to escape or throw the ball away, but he took sacks instead.
Cutler said he needed to look at the tape before he could say for sure what was happening, but he acknowledged he felt he was helping the Panthers' pass rushers.
"I didn't move as well as I thought I wanted to," Cutler said. "I kept asking JB (quarterbacks coach Jeremy Bates) and J-Cam (quarterback Jason Campbell) if I was staying in there too long or what the deal is."
If Cutler was frustrated with his performance, he was no more frustrated than some of those who paid good coin to watch it. They booed him and his offense viciously as he left the field at halftime.
Internet lip readers viewed a clip from the broadcast and said Cutler had expressed his displeasure with the fan reaction by using words not suitable for these pages.
But in the news conference afterward, Cutler empathized with the angry mob.
"I'd boo us too," he said. "I told those guys it was a boo-worthy performance if you will. It was pathetic offensively what we put out there. It wasn't up to standard, product-wise. We have to get better, we know that, our fans know that. Luckily enough we got out of there with a win, but the first half is nothing to be proud of."
It wasn't. But it was.
When asked about Cutler's performance, coach Lovie Smith chose selective amnesia.
"When you are a great quarterback, most of the time in the league no matter what happens early on, it's going to come down to what you do in the fourth quarter, what you do with two minutes left to go in the game," he said.
We can't argue.
Almost any quarterback can put together three miserable quarters as Cutler did Sunday. But there aren't many who can put together the game-winning drive.
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