That was Jay Cutler when it mattered against Minnesota on Sunday.
That will be Jay Cutler after this season ends if he keeps this up.
The Bears needed a drive like they did several minutes earlier when Matt Forte had the ball ripped out of his hands. The Vikings converted that into a field goal and a 30-24 lead.
The Bears were letting the Vikings hang around, letting them score two return touchdowns, letting them eat up clock. Geez, the Bears let an inferior Vikings teams take a lead late at Soldier Field.
Now the Bears really needed a drive. This was a time for Cutler. This was a reason Marc Trestman was brought in. This was a situation the Bears had been waiting on.
Cutler had not been having a particularly good day. He had thrown two interceptions, one in the red zone on first-and-goal (yeesh) and was sacked and stripped on a play that Brian Robinson returned 61 yards for a score.
Cutler had completed 21 of 29 for 214 yards with a couple TDs, but those two picks in the red zone were building to Cutler panic. He needed a drive. He needed a drive against a division rival that had beaten the Bears out of a playoff spot last year. He needed a drive to display the leadership we had been hearing about. He needed a drive for a lot of reasons.
And on the first play, he hit the umpire with a pass. Oy.
But then it started. On third-and-4 at the Minnesota 39, Cutler fired a high pass that Brandon Marshall yanked down for a 12-yard gain. He got a great catch from Alshon Jeffery on a low throw, and then converted another third down to Marshall.
But on first down at the Minnesota 30, Jermon Bushrod was called for holding. In other days, this might’ve been the killer play. In other days, the Bears didn’t have a line, a quarterback, pass-catching weapons and a playcaller to overcome it.
But this was not other days. This might herald a new day --- the kind of new day for which the Bears had been built. That will be determined later, but for now, this was not other days.
Cutler hit Martellus Bennett for 23 yards. Just like that, first-and-20 was a memory, and it was first-and-10 at the Minnesota 16.
Two plays later, Cutler delivered a superb back-shoulder throw to Bennett at the 1 that carried him over the pylon with 11 seconds to go.
The potential free agent completed 7 of 10 for 76 yards on the drive, converting all three first downs and managing the clock excruciatingly well. He found four different targets, including two to the tight end. Man, it’s wonderful to see a Bears tight end who can make a big play.
Behind Cutler’s leadership, the Bears displayed great poise amid the bad drives and turnovers, not to mention the terror of losing a home game to a team quarterbacked by Christian Ponder, who, good lord, was outplaying Cutler in the second half.
The dividends from Cutler’s drive are enormous. The Bears moved to 2-0 and pretty much killed the season for a division rival. Perhaps more importantly, the Bears have reason to believe in Trestman’s plays, in the retooled offensive line to stand strong, in Cutler’s ability to make the throws, and in the wideouts, running back and tight end to deliver big.
There are problems here, sure. The special teams were atrocious. The defense gave up 350 yards. The offense turned over the ball.
But this season is about Cutler. He delivered when it mattered. Money.