Jay Cutler is back in the saddle again. The most successful Chicago quarterback of the Super Bowl era returns from his thumb injury, a malady which sidelined him for the last month.
Cutler returns to a team in a different state. Though his Bears lost both his starts at the beginning of the season, there was still some modicum of hope for a successful 2016 in Chicago. Four losses in five games since washed away any realistic lingering optimism.
The altered state presents Cutler with a golden opportunity to rewrite his personal narrative.
Even at his best in Chicago, the 33-year-old had vociferous detractors both locally and nationally. The quarterback quickly got on the wrong side of iconic defensive star Brian Urlacher, who stated on the Dan Patrick show he wanted to hit Cutler. Lance Briggs echoed those sentiments after the fellow star linebacker left the team. There are the pictures of Cutler flipping off the camera while walking his dog. His recalcitrant demeanor and wayward body language on the sidelines, his seeming apathy when throwing yet another red zone interception, it all makes Cutler an easy target for the negativity. Blame for the franchise’s decline over the last few seasons has largely fallen squarely on his perennially shrugged shoulders.
Now No. 6 is back with no expectations other than failure. Many believe these are his final games in Chicago, an issue he’s desperately trying to avoid…
His offensive tackles are inadequate. Other than Alshon Jeffery, the Bears’ receivers are either injury-riddled or wildly unproven, even with Cam Meredith’s impressive first two starts. There are even rumors of Jeffery on the trade block, a white flag move if there ever was one.
In short, nobody thinks Cutler will find much success in Chicago over the rest of the season. The fans and the local media are beyond resigned to another last-place fate…
…and that’s why Cutler has a chance to do something special. He’s already shown more positive leadership while injured, helping out Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley.
If he can somehow coax this dilapidated Bears roster to four or five wins in the remaining nine games, it will do wonders for Cutler. Coming out and finding success against the top-ranked Vikings’ defense in prime time this Monday would be a great first step.
It might even be enough to convince GM Ryan Pace to give him another chance, though with a more reliable insurance policy than the fragile Hoyer. For all of Cutler’s foibles, he’s still an average NFL starter at worst. Occasionally — the Washington and Tampa Bay games late last year are examples — he is an upper echelon starter. Those guys aren’t exactly growing on trees. Ask the Jets, 49ers, Browns, Texans and Jaguars, to name but a few teams that would gladly welcome the Vanderbilt product as a significant upgrade.
It starts Monday.
Can Cutler rewrite the script and spin the story to a more positive ending? Will he rally his injury-ravaged mates and shock the world? The opportunity is there, believe it or not. Strange things can happen when there’s nothing left to lose.
That’s where Cutler sits in Chicago.