It takes a special brand of disaster to become the biggest story in the NFL right now, particularly as the replacement referees award fourth timeouts, let on-field roughness escalate to previously unreached heights and come up with different definitions for pass interference with every new down. If Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler didn't receive a fruit basket from the scab refs this week, he probably deserved one. In a sea of blown calls and egregious non-calls, it was the on-field actions of Cutler that overshadowed the follies of the NFL's merry band of substitute teachers in the wake of Week 2.
Everywhere you look, someone is talking about Jay Cutler.
Given Chicago's unhealthy obsession with our pro football team and the rival involved, a local firestorm was to be expected after Cutler threw four interceptions during the Bears' 23-10 loss at Lambeau Field. What's surprising, perhaps, is how Cutler's play and temperament has exploded into a national fixation. Jay Cutler's shove of his inadequate left tackle is now America's business. He is debated by ESPN's talking heads on one show after another. He is fodder for columnists and radio hosts countrywide. If you've played played for the Bears, played quarterback or even have a vague interest in the NFL, you're expected to give an opinion on Cutler.
Should he have apologized to J'Marcus Webb? Can you win a Super Bowl with a quarterback so petulant? Do the Bears seriously need to reconsider their course before handing Cutler a lucrative new contract extension?
It all amounts to white noise at this point, a byproduct of having 10 days between Week 2 and Week 3 and a narrative ready-made for moralizing. Jay Cutler is a crappy leader and he just might not be a very good quarterback. You get the sense that if Cutler has another bad game or two and the Bears lose to the Rams and Cowboys, the calls for Jason Campbell are inevitable. This all seemed so impossible amid an avalanche of touchdown passes and optimism just a couple short weeks ago.
Yes, Cutler's Week 2 performance was that bad. Even to Bears fans in this city dying for a football savior, it seems pointless to make excuses for him. Was the offense line terrible? Yes. Did the playcalling seem suspect? Probably. But at a certain point, the onus falls on Cutler to do what we all expected him to do when the Bears traded for the moody quarterback before the start of the 2009 season. Tough love is the best love and Cutler has to be better. If he isn't, it's just another swift kick to the stomach for Bears fans that have certainly sat through way too many incompetent quarterbacks.
Perhaps the conversation would have died down by now had Bears cornerback D.J. Moore not added additional fuel to the fire. When Moore publicly denounced Cutler's actions, a new wave of chatter was launched and the narrative proved sustainable. Suddenly, the Bears had a mutiny on their hands and that sourced Pro Football Talk report didn't seem so unbelievable. Is Cutler really this much of a problem?
As always, everything will be determined on the field. If the Bears come out on Sunday and run St. Louis off Soldier Field, everything will be fine and firestorm will appear exaggerated. Chicago is expected to win Sunday, and anything less than a convincing victory will put the national gaze back on Cutler. For his sake, he best be on his top behavior.
While such an outpouring of media attention would distract some, the Bears and their fans can take comfort in knowing one of Cutler's biggest supposed flaws will only come in handy. Jay Cutler, very obviously, does not give a shit about what you or anyone else thinks. He is the professional quarterback, the millionaire married to a reality star. He's better than you and he knows it. He also has unquestioned trust in his own abilities, the same 'gunslinger' mentality that led to four interceptions at Lambeau. Don't think Cutler will give second thought to cutting one lose to Brandon Marshall in double coverage on Sunday. It will happen.
One thing is certain: the divide between Cutler's local appeal and his national reputation is coming to a head. In Chicago, Cutler is a knight in shining armor, a quarterback with such impressive physical tools we can't help but daydream about Bears triumph. You would do the same if your lifetime was spent watching Chad Hutchinson, Craig Krenzel and the like. To the rest of the country, Cutler is unlikable and immature and an underachiever. Who's the real Jay Cutler? The football Jesus this city has already yearned for or just a taller version of Rex Grossman? There's no point in making judgements after each and every week, but the 24/7 news cycle makes such a thing unavoidable.
Jay Cutler needs to be better. If he's back to his Week 1 self vs. the Rams, this will all blow over so quickly.