Bears need more than Jay Cutler to beat Packers

QB right to assert team must play well as whole — and that includes player at most important position

At the risk of making my computer wonder if it was hacked, duty compels me to report Jay Cutler connected logically during a news conference Thursday at Halas Hall.

Barely anybody noticed.

The focus understandably centered on how Cutler behaved instead of what he said because, even by Cutler's standards, it was a bratty performance. Asked about Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers announcing his return Sunday afternoon at Soldier Field, Cutler answered with familiar indifference: "I play offense."

Like a kid who got coal in his stocking, the grinch from Santa Claus, Ind., acted even ruder and more dismissive than before the Browns game, when he drew deserved criticism in this column. Yet on the day after Christmas, at the core of Cutler's curtness was a kernel of truth.

"The pressure to win is there every week," Cutler said. "We can't make this game more than it is."

Of more importance, Cutler can't.

This is what Sunday's game is: An opportunity for the Bears to stamp coach Marc Trestman's first season a success with a playoff-clinching victory that offers Cutler a chance to win over Chicago by being the difference. We can agree it's time for Cutler to beat the Packers so his ascent under Trestman continues. The quarterback with the untapped potential has produced big moments since becoming a Bear, but a football city still awaits The Cutler Game.

This is what Sunday's game isn't: An all-or-nothing referendum on Cutler's future. Really? Beating the Packers comes down to the quarterback on a team with a defense that creates more open lanes than I-PASS? Several Bears defensive players can influence general manager Phil Emery on Sunday, but, just a hunch, nothing Cutler does will alter Emery's offseason plan at quarterback.

Another bad game against the Packers only will hurt Cutler's leverage. A good game could cost the Bears more to retain Cutler — but they would consider it money well spent. Among other things, Sunday represents the next round of contract renegotiations.

Moving on without Cutler if the Bears miss the playoffs would fail to bring them any closer to the Super Bowl that is Emery's sole purpose. Finding a quarterback alternative who fits better in a Bears offense with playmakers would challenge the club more than bringing back a talented, salvageable 31-year-old who will benefit from running the same scheme. Perhaps the Bears never will win a Super Bowl with Cutler, but they cannot jump to that conclusion before they let Trestman finish trying.

More than anything, the popular narrative that Cutler finally must beat the Packers or start packing reveals mounting frustration over Cutler's 1-7 record against the rival. It reflects an emotional response lacking perspective Cutler possessed Thursday beneath his petulance. For Cutler to approach this game as if it determines his future would make it "more than it is" and create unnecessary anxiety — as well as unfairly link Cutler's Packers past with Sunday's present.

Look at Cutler's career numbers against the Packers and you would assume he was Steve Stenstrom rather than the best quarterback in Bears history. But they have no bearing on how well Cutler will fare running Trestman's offense for the first time against this Packers defense — unless he lets stats clutter his mind.

That's why Cutler's reticence wasn't hard to accept for somebody who has seen all 17 interceptions Cutler has thrown against the Packers. His easy, accurate explanation: "We weren't as good on offense.''

Only the president of the Devin Aromashodu Fan Club would disagree. Aromashodu was among the nondescript wide receivers running routes during Cutler's first three seasons as a Bear. When a legitimate No. 1 wide receiver, Brandon Marshall, finally arrived in 2012, former offensive coordinator Mike Tice couldn't figure out how to get him the ball. Or protect Cutler. Usually it was both.

"He's just one guy,'' Trestman said of Cutler. "He has a whole team around him. It's a team game.''

The return of Rodgers from a broken left collarbone makes the Packers a scarier team. Rodgers will be playing for the first time in 55 days on a hard, cold surface that will make it hard to land when (if?) he gets tackled. He likely will put the ball wherever he wants, whenever he wants. Coach Mike McCarthy called Rodgers "the best player in the league'' with good reason.

Yet no matter how much Rodgers resembles an MVP, he can't help a Packers defense that has surrendered only one fewer point than the Bears have since Week 13. Rodgers can do only so much. Same goes for Cutler.

"It's going to take all of us to win,'' Cutler said. "This isn't a personal game for anybody in the locker room.''

Personally, I couldn't agree more. This game will define the Bears season, not their quarterback.

dhaugh@tribune.com

Twitter @DavidHaugh

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