Welcome to Week Under Review, where Week 5 may have planted the seeds to good news on the NFL ratings front, a little engine keeps ticking and a disturbing analogy must be quickly dispersed. But first to Chicago where the Bears are close to admitting they just wasted seven years…
Career journeyman quarterback Brian Hoyer just completed his third straight 300-yard passing game for the Bears. Josh McCown, another career journeyman, achieved the same trifecta for Chicago in 2013. You know who has never strung together three consecutive 300-plus-yard games? Jay Cutler. Statistical disappointment is just part of the reason things seem to be heading south for Cutler’s tenure with the Bears.
Yesterday morning, CBS Sports reported that Cutler has “fallen out of favor” with John Fox and other coaches and that the team may stick with Hoyer once Cutler’s thumb is healed. Whether it happens now or the end of the season, the relationship seems to be dissolving for good, which it should. When the Bears and Cutler officially cut ties, his era will be defined by many words, some of which are not appropriate for this column. Here’s the first word that comes to my mind: nothingness. Chicago has been spinning its wheels for seven years with Cutler as quarterback.
The strong arm. The pedigree. The sneaky athleticism. The potential that landed him a ridiculous seven-year, $124 million contract with $54 million guaranteed after an injury-shortened 2013 season. The fantasy of Cutler almost always tops the reality. Take yesterday’s 29–23 loss to the Colts. There are writers and “Twitter analysts” who have suggested the Bears win that game with Cutler under center instead of Hoyer: Cutler finds more plays down field, exposing weaknesses in the Colts’ secondary and extending plays. Those things may be true. It’s also entirely possible that deep in the fourth quarter, Cutler has too much faith in his arm strength, doesn’t plant his back foot and fires a football straight into the arms of a surprised Colts defender. Or maybe it’s the first quarter and Cutler decides to chew out his left tackle for a missed block, souring the mood of the entire line for the rest of the game. Or maybe he would have simply gotten hurt on a sack or interception return, like he has time after time for the Bears. Sometimes it’s better to understand a less inherently talented quarterback’s limitations than play with fire.
The problem with Cutler has always been that you literally never know. The inconsistency wouldn’t be such an issue if the hot streaks lasted long enough to mean anything. In seven years, the Bears have made the postseason just once—and even that feels like eons ago. Of course, the Bears’ loss to the Packers in that 2010 NFC Championship Game will forever be memorialized by the image of a sullen Cutler on the sideline far away from teammates after suffering an MCL sprain.
Joe Flacco and Eli Manning are in the same strong-armed and streaky category, but at least they’ve both rode a fiery enough wave to be donning Super Bowl rings.
Chicago has been nowhere close during most of Cutler’s tenure, and the excuse bank has been in overdrive. The defense tanked after Lovie Smith was fired in 2012. The offensive line has been one of the worst in the league, though it has improved this season. For years, before Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery arrived, the Bears trotted out receivers whose names I hardly remember. Current Bears coordinator Dowell Loggains is Cutler’s seventh OC in Chicago. Cutler thrived in Adam Gase’s scheme last year but failed in so many others.
At some point, other quarterbacks worthy of mega-contracts compensate for other weaknesses on their team. That’s why they make the big bucks. Cutler literally needs every single star perfectly aligned, and even then he’d probably be strip-sacked in overtime.
Like any toxic relationship, it’s simply time to move on. There’s too much baggage. Too few wins. Too much diminished hope. Absolutely no traction. Just like ’90s pop music or any trip to the DMV, the Jay Cutler Era in Chicago has been an absolute waste of time.
Lose the battle, win the war?
The NFL’s downtrodden television ratings have been gaining steam as one of this season’s most crucial storylines. Yes, a certain gut-wrenching debate opposite an intriguing SNF matchup last night provided an obvious glimpse into one of the culprits. In addition, a Rasmussen poll released last week found that 32% of Americans were less likely to watch the NFL due to anthem protesting. True as it may be, I personally find it incredibly unlikely that a real fan of, say, the Dolphins, is just going to turn in their fan card because Arian Foster kneels during the anthem. The fringe fans may be another story, but I think something else has been keeping the non-diehards away: a watered-down product with no dominating household name quarterbacks or teams with strong national fan bases capturing our attention.
That all changed Sunday when the NFL’s most divisive player and team showed they are likely to stay relevant well beyond the election. Tom Brady returned and didn’t miss a beat. And the Cowboys’ offensive is legit; plus, they’re about to be embroiled in a quarterback controversy. (O.K., maybe it’s a fan/media driven one, but at least it’s conversation!) What a double antidote for a down first quarter.
More appreciation for Frank Gore
Peter King already wrote today about Gore, who yesterday passed a little-known running back named Jim Brown to move to ninth on the NFL’s all-time rushing list. But I am in such awe of Gore’s career, I had to double down. Gore has rushed for 12,368 yards in a career that has been quietly phenomenal. While most running backs have careers that last between two and four years, Gore is going strong in his 12th season. And the most jaw-dropping aspect of it all: The 33-year old hasn’t missed a start since Oct. 2, 2011. That is simply unheard of in an era when it’s a miracle for any skill player, let alone a running back, to last all sixteen games of one season.
I’ve been a huge fan of Gore’s since his early days with the 49ers, when for years he was one of the only members of that roster worth watching. Gore never publicly complained. Nor did he ruffle feathers during the tumultuous ending to the Jim Harbaugh era. Now in Indy, he continues to do his job, and do it well. Gore is the consummate NFL player. He also shares a common trait with Brady in that he, and not Father Time, will determine how long he’s going to play this game.
On ‘locker room talk’
My two cents. I have been in myriad NFL locker rooms around the country for over a decade, and generally around athletes in a variety of situations—parties, events, on television sets, in transit. While most players were respectful of my presence, I’ve received more than my fair share of unwanted comments from bad seeds that have left me feeling confused, angry and once in a while questioning my choice of career. Yet never once did the lowest of the low approach anything close to boasting about how money and power have allowed them to sexually assault women. The bottom line is that Trump was in a bus on the Access Hollywood set when he made his lewd comments, not a locker room. Try a different analogy.