Da Bears.

Even I’ve been surprised (and pleasantly so) at the controversy surrounding Jay Cutler and his early departure from what was, arguably, the most important game in Chicago Bears history. I think the best piece on the subject was Michael Wilbon’s ESPN bit from yesterday; in it, he takes the time to detail the Bears’s history of underachievers under center, roast the Bears’s management for failing to bring in and develop quality passers, and–most importantly–skewer Cutler for being an arrogant prick who constantly fails to live up to his own self-image.

I don’t want to say I’m on the side of Maurice Jones-Drew, Derrick Brooks, Deion Sanders or Torry Holt, who say that Cutler should have played through whatever injury he might have had. Especially in times like these, where greedy owners do their best to position themselves as ideological underdogs to greedy players in contract negotiations, I can’t fault a player for not wanting to put his career on the line over one game–nor can I fault team doctors or coaches for not allowing him to do so. However, I do think there’s something to be said for the fact that Cutler watched the second half from the sideline with that bored look on his face he always seems to have. He didn’t seem to be making any effort to help Todd Collins or Caleb Hanie (particularly damning in the case of the latter, considering he was probably more familiar with the Packers’s offense at that point than his own team’s), and I could have sworn I saw him listening to his iPod, waiting for the game to end so he could saunter off into the locker room and handle his business, which says a lot about a quarterback, really.

And I’m not talking about from a fan’s perspective, either. Okay, in a way I am, since I’ve never played organized football at any level (although not for lack of desire), but I’m speaking from the perspective of a person who has to have an awareness and understanding of team dynamics. As a coach, I’ve always stressed the importance of team–that interest in the success of one’s team is more important than anything else. The support of one’s teammates is the kind of thing that elevates the performance of absolutely everybody, and makes the team look better in general. A perfect example–Patty Mills, my favorite player on the Portland Trail Blazers, whose relentless enthusiasm for both the team and the community would make you think he’s an all-star, or at least the star of the team, when in reality he averages 11.5 minutes per game (less than a quarter, for you non-basketball fans). If you watch a Portland game–any Portland game–you can usually see Mills going apeshit in support of his teammates, whether he’s on the court or on the bench. Call me old-fashioned or silly, but that kind of energy feeds me a fan, and lets me know that the paycheck isn’t enough for a player and that he respects the fact that a team is willing to invest in him to play for them. Mills is a point guard, an on-court decision maker, and he realizes that he can’t do his job unless everyone believes in him. I have yet to see Jay Cutler–who leads more than twice as many people on the field as Mills does on the basketball court–demonstrate any real on-field enthusiasm for the people around him. That’s the honest truth. Cutler’s teammates can say whatever they want about what the guy may be like behind closed doors–he could be the most outgoing, charismatic, and supportive dude in the locker room–but he earns his money on the field, and no one can deny the fact that Cutler has a history of occasionally forgetting to show up on the field, to a point at which even some of his teammates (in Denver and Chicago, mind you) have doubted his dedication. In the piece I linked to earlier, I think Michael Wilbon summarizes the man perfectly:

“…Jay Cutler, who at his best constantly has the metropolis holding its breath, looking at games through spread fingers, praying to God he doesn’t screw it up by throwing it to the other guys. And at his worst, he looks for the perfect pass instead of moving the chains and managing the game and thinks his arm is stronger than John Elway’s, which is both stupid and immaterial.”

This is the Jay Cutler that showed up last Sunday, a guy whose high self-opinion failed to grant him the ability to complete a simple fucking out route, a guy who would take a seven-step drop, plant his feet and stand like a rock, a guy who was ineffective before his departure with a mysterious knee ligament strain. That’s the reason I’m pissed at Jay Cutler. It wasn’t that he bailed on his teammates in the second half; it was that he never got to the game in the first place. Whether he was overthrowing to wide-open receivers in the first quarter or underthrowing his way into an interception at the end of the second quarter, Cutler spent the entire first half of the biggest NFL game in 50 years shitting himself, effectively proving that he is not who Bears fans want him to be, not who the Bears’s management says he is, and–most importantly–he’s not who he thinks he is. When you look at the history of champion quarterbacks in the NFL, you’ll notice it’s rarely the most physically talented who take their team to the top. What separates Joe Montana, John Elway, Tom Brady, Brett Favre, or even Doug Williams from people like Michael Vick, Philip Rivers or Tony Romo isn’t physical talent or even mental talent–it’s the ability to inspire unfailing loyalty in all of their teammates at all times, the kind of loyalty that makes everybody step up for the better of the team. Hell, there are even people who haven’t won Super Bowls that inspired that kind of dedication–Dan Marino and Jim Kelly come to mind–but, despite their lack of champion status, their legacies as players can’t be denied, because that’s exactly who they were: players, consummate professionals who thanked the team for their successes and blamed themselves for their failures.

Probably the most unfortunate thing is that the Bears have essentially mortgaged their future to bring Cutler into the fold in the first place. Trading away incumbent Kyle Orton (who was and continues to be the consummate professional) was, by far, the most egregious error–not only was he cheap, but he was also gracious and never objected to coming off the bench. Just as bad, though, was the forfeiture of two first-round picks. I know my fellow Bears fans would say that not having a first-round pick prevents the Bears from bringing in another Rex Grossman/Curtis Enis/Marc Colombo–but it also prevents them from getting another Brian Urlacher. To his credit, Bears General Manager Jerry Angelo has done a decent job of bringing in decent role-players, but decent role-players, while solid, still need leadership. The Bears defense has a fair amount of role-players, but what has always put them over the top has been Urlacher’s leadership and field-smarts. The addition of Julius Peppers gave the team the star talent they’ve lacked since Urlacher’s gotten a bit older and isn’t as blazingly fast as he used to be–not only is there really not any star talent on the Bears’s offense, but last weekend, Cutler proved there isn’t any leadership, either–and, barring another lucky guess like with Matt Forte, there won’t be any coming through the draft.

All of this, of course, exposes the most glaring failure on the team–personnel management. People can say what they will about Lovie Smith, but it’s hard to deny the fact that his players (Cutler aside) are willing to push themselves to the limit for him. It’s a testament to his coaching ability that, every year, the Bears are considered also-rans by NFL talking heads, yet have managed to put together winning records in more than half of his tenure with the team. This year was especially telling–Smith took a team with no stars on offense, no speed on defense, and three washed-up or failed head coaches (Offensive Coordinator Mike Martz, Defensive Coordinator Rod Marinelli, and Offensive Line Coach Mike Tice) and put them one touchdown away from going to the Super Bowl for the second time in five years. The real problem is Jerry Angelo, a guy whose incredible knack for clinging to certifiable draft busts (Rex Grossman, anybody?) while ditching people who would go on to be solid performers (Thomas Jones, Cedric Benson, Orton, Chris Harris) would lead anyone to wonder why he still manages to have a job. Unfortunately, it looks like Angelo has a stranglehold on his job–meaning Bears fans will have to put up with Cutler’s mercurial lack of leadership for a while to come.

That is, of course, unless Cutler somehow can’t play. Anybody have Lavar Arrington’s phone number?


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