Not that Jay Cutler will ever be known for his emotional capacity, but easy it's to wonder if the Chicago Bears quarterback felt a certain amount of empathy for Tony Romo on Monday night. As a tidal wave of criticism prepares to descend upon the Cowboys' quarterback after throwing the Bears five interceptions, two for touchdowns, during a 34-18 Chicago win on his home turf to cap Week 4, only Cutler knows the feeling. He's been here before, just a fortnight ago. Cutler and Romo are the NFL's most surface level kindred spirits, brothers from another mother who lead with a penchant for playing Russian roulette with their team's fortunes and their fanbase's nerve. With each, there's always a tipping point. On Monday, Cutler persevered and Romo let a couple mistakes snowball into another nightmare performance.
If Cutler was the one who lost the game, who threw all of those interceptions, the dominating narrative the day after would have involved his first half sideline blowup with Mike Tice. With the Bears' offense sputtering, the offensive coordinator went to talk to his quarterback on the bench, only to be spurned before he could say a word. This is where it all could have unraveled, when Cutler could have let his recklessness get the best of him and thrown proper judgment to the side. Instead, the Bears QB regrouped and turned in a killer second half: 11-of-12 for 219 yards and two touchdowns. Romo wasn't so lucky.
Tipping point No 1: Romo sees something in the Chicago defense near the end of the first quarter and reads hot. His receiver, Dez Bryant, does not. Romo fires a pass to the sidelines expecting Bryant to run a curl route. When Bryant instead decides to go long, Bears cornerback Charles Tillman is waiting for the interception. He juggles the ball before using his knee to corral it and take it to the end zone. The Bears were on the board and another slow offensive start for Cutler and Co. had been supplemented.
Tipping point No. 2: After smoking the Cowboys' defense on an early third quarter drive that ends in a 34-yard touchdown reception by Devin Hester, Jay Cutler loses a fumble on his next possession. This is a very Jay Cutler thing to do. Not to be outdone, on the very next play, Romo does this:
If this highlight isn't already set to "Yakety Sax", the Internet must be broken.
Of course, there's another factor in Cutler overcoming his night terrors and Romo succumbing to them: the Bears' defense was, once again, nothing short of incredible. This was supposed to be the year the offense carried the defense, as the former gained several fun, new weapons and the latter only saw its most critical cogs age another year. But through four weeks, the young guns on Chicago's D have been very impressive and those same old, reliable faces we all thought could drop-off have been typically stellar -- maybe even better than usual.
Was Monday night about Romo's shortcomings or the triumph of the Bears' D? Romo's play will draw headlines, but a quarterback as good as he is doesn't ruin his pants on national television without a high-level performance from the opposition.
The Bears defense was great on Monday night: they only sacked Romo once but pressured him throughout. They didn't force any fumbles (unless you think Briggs' pick-six was actually a fumble, which it probably was), but that doesn't matter when you grab five interceptions. You know about Tillman, Urlacher, Briggs and Peppers, and they have been pillar of the Bears' 3-1 start. But what about Major Wright and Henry Melton? Corey Wootton and D.J. Moore? The Bears' D brings talent in droves, and no opposing offense is going to push it around.
Lovie Smith has been entrenched as the head coach of the Bears for nine seasons at this point, so it shouldn't come as news that the man likes to talk about the season in terms of quarters. With the victory over Dallas, Chicago wraps up its first quarter in impressive fashion: 3-1 overall, a game in front of the rival Packers, tied atop the division with the Vikings. This is wonderful no matter which way you slice it, but it hardly feels cathartic. We expected the Bears to be good, their record shows they are good, but it's still not enough. When 3-1 doesn't do it, is it a problem with the team or a problem with the fans?
Simply put, it's hard to win in the NFL. It's even harder to blow the doors off your opponent. If we expected this season to be as completely painless as the '85 season, that was stupid. Talent is spread evenly, most teams are well-coached. The Bears don't have some big advantage over the rest of the NFL with Cutler and Brandon Marshall, they just caught up to the times. 3-1 is a hell of a start. And look at the rest of the schedule...
The next game at Jacksonville should be a win. The home games that follow vs. the Lions and Panthers are also very winnable. Same goes for a date at Tennessee before a killer one-two punch of games vs. the Texans and at San Francisco test the Bears' true worth.
Point being: while this season hasn't been all unicorns and double rainbows so far, it's still been damn good. Forget about Cutler's body language. Forget about those delusions of offensive fireworks. Right now, the Bears have a great veteran defense and an offense that's still coming around. It's been enough to get them to 3-1, which is something no one should be complaining about.