This season always has been about Jay Cutler. Sunday’s game against the Browns certainly was all about Cutler.
Especially about Cutler.
After missing four games because of injuries and then regaining his starting position after Josh McCown’s career night, Cutler gave it his best.
And his worst.
The Cutler thrill-ride was motoring all over the park.
A 65-second drive to end the first half with a tying TD pass to Brandon Marshall followed Cutler’s displaying his many talents -- mobility, vision and arm strength.
It also followed many of his weaknesses -- two interceptions, one for a pick-6, and several bad decisions and bad throws.
Early on, the Bears had to be looking for another way to spend $16 million on the most important position in the game.
Marc Trestman stuck with his starting quarterback, no matter that a playoff spot was hanging in the balance. And it couldn’t have been easy, what with all the points the Bears were costing themselves.
The Bears lost a potential TD when Cutler threw a pick in the end zone, leading to a Browns field goal.
The Cutler threw his pick-6, and when the Bears tried to answer, Robbie Gould’s 46-yard field goal was negated because of Corey Wooton’s holding penalty.
That’s a 20-point turnaround in what was a seven-point game.
The Bears gave away another seven points late in the third quarter when T.J. Ward ran back Martellus Bennett’s fumble for a 24-17 lead. Add another 10 or 14 points to the turnaround figure.
No matter. “Mr. Fourth Quarter’’ showed he was just that.
First, Cutler led a 95-yard drive in 2:24, culminating with another great catch by Alshon Jeffery on a Hail Mary to tie the score at 24.
Next series, after Devin Hester returned a punt to the Browns 36, Cutler needed six plays to give the Bears a 31-24 lead with 5:41 remaining.
By the time he hit Earl Bennett just inside the end zone, Cutler had completed 11 of 12 on third down for 151 yards, seven first downs and two TDs.
Thank goodness Michael Bush rambled 40 yards for a touchdown with 2:17 to go. It should’ve been an insurance score, but it turned out to be the difference after the desperate Browns stung Tim Jennings and a clumsy Chris Conte for a Josh Gordon TD with less than a minute to go.
It shouldn’t have been that difficult to beat a four-win Browns team. It was difficult because of Cutler’s lousy play early. It was manageable because Zack Bowman returned a Jason Campbell interception for a score. It was accomplished because the Browns habitually blow fourth-quarter leads.
And because the thrill-ride that is Cutler took advantage of that trend when it mattered.
Many people felt McCown should’ve continued to start, and some of those people might’ve been in Cutler’s locker room, and they might’ve been looking sideways early on.
Interestingly, Cutler’s negotiating stance looks a lot stronger after our Football Big Foot Brad Biggs reported Friday that McCown’s minimum-wage contract guarantees that he will hit free agency under the new collective bargaining agreement. The Bears, who used the minimum contract provision to sign multiple veterans to one-year contracts, can't reach a deal with him until the new league year begins.
And so, it’s likely that the backup will get some serious money. It’s also likely that Cutler will, as well, lest the Bears enter free agency without a starter at the game’s most important position.
More immediately, a 21-point fourth quarter and a road win brought redemption for Cutler. He needed that result. He needed to be a positive factor in that result. Ultimately, he was.
I don’t know if that’s worth $16 million a season. But it was worth first place for now.