NFL

Cutler sends all right signals in win

Jay Cutler played both QB and leader on Monday night. More, please.
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Greg Couch

Greg Couch has been a national columnist at AOL Fanhouse and The Sporting News and an award-winning columnist at the Chicago Sun-Times. He was featured twice in "Best American Sports Writing" and was recognized by the US Tennis Writers Association for best column writing and match coverage. He covers tennis on his personal blog. Follow him on Twitter.

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CHICAGO

This was like a guy bringing flowers to his wife in apology for the fifth time. He has learned the error of his ways this time, though. He’s swears it. He’s sorry. He’ll never do it again.

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Never. Ever.

Jay Cutler was the Jay Cutler everyone wants him to be Monday night, the one who is there for his team, with his team for the fight. He played through injury. He credited his offensive linemen, instead of bumping them. He pointed out the great play-calling of offensive coordinator Mike Tice, rather than ignoring him and walking away in a bratty huff.

Cutler wasn’t great, but he was all that the Bears needed, as the defense beat Detroit 13-7.

“I missed some throws; I wasn’t feeling exactly 100 percent, but we had to fight through it,’’ Cutler said. “The way our defense was playing, we were just trying to drag out the game.’’

Humble Jay Cutler.

The Bears might be better than we thought they were. The defense was going to start showing its age. Instead, it has been dominant.

The Bears are 5-1 and in first place. They finally have receivers.

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The offensive line was supposed to look like a welcome mat, but has been tolerable, sometimes downright decent. But it all comes down to Cutler. The Bears’ ceiling depends on entirely on him. And while he was a good quarterback and human being Monday, the problem is that he has shown up with flowers in hand before.

Cutler is two things: damage and damage control. At some point, people can learn from their mistakes. But how is anyone really supposed to believe that when the big moment comes, and the tension and pressure are up, that Cutler won’t be Bad Jay again?

But enjoy the moment, Bears fans. Cutler was run down late in the second quarter by his huge, cheap-shotting enemy, Ndamukong Suh, who grabbed his arm and seemed to bend Cutler’s ribcage on his knee mid-pile drive.

“I thought I was gone,’’ Cutler said. “And then he got ahold of me. At that point, I knew it wasn’t going to end well.’’

It was a clean hit. Suh even checked on Cutler after the play, and appeared to try to shake his hand. Cutler stayed in a heap on the turf for a while, and then popped up and ran off. Bears coaches immediately took away his helmet. But one play later, Cutler was back in, with bruised ribs, and maybe more to be determined by exams this week.

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Tough Jay Cutler.

“It’s what he is,’’ Bears coach Lovie Smith said. “It’s just that. He’s a tough guy. Most people thought Jay would get up. Unless it’s a broken leg or something like that, he’s going to get up. He is a tough guy.

"That’s what you should have as your Chicago Bear quarterback, and he does it time after time.’’

We got it, Lovie. Cutler: Tough guy.

“That’s effort by him,’’ Smith said. “He was in some pain, but he fought through it.’’

OK already.

When Cutler came back to start the second half, the crowd cheered in relief. But more so, he had sent a message to his teammates: He was there WITH them.

That isn’t always the message from Cutler. In Green Bay, he bumped left tackle J’Marcus Webb for allowing so many sacks. He had his little snit with Tice. And while Cutler fans get angry any time anyone brings up the way he left the NFC title game against Green Bay two seasons ago, well, I’ll never believe there weren’t teammates wondering why he wouldn’t give up his body for such a big moment.

He just happened to push all the right buttons Monday, covering all the negative talking points about him. It was as if he had a checklist during his postgame news conference.

That’s not to say it was all phony. Cutler needed to come back into that game Monday after Suh pounded him. He did exactly the right thing playing hurt, even if his passes in the second half were weak and short.

In fact, especially because of that. He was not at his best, but he was there.

It was courageous. It had to hurt like hell. And even for a Cutler-doubter — me — it had to make your mind wander. Cutler threw a beautiful touchdown pass to Brandon Marshall, his favorite receiver. He was Cutler’s favorite in Denver, too.

Marshall said he was trying to get open, and when he saw a special and familiar look in Cutler’s eyes, he knew he was open. He said Cutler’s eyes told him to stay where he was, that the ball was coming.

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Was it a special bond that made that play happen?

“No,’’ Cutler said. “It was just a good play call by Mike (Tice). The ball got tipped a little bit, but he (Marshall) was still able to get a hold of it. Good play-call and a good catch.’’

Credit-giving Cutler.

And it made you wonder if that defense can stay young-looking as the season wears on, if maybe Cutler-to-Marshall could be enough to make the Bears scary. We know Cutler has talent.

On top of that, maybe his chippy attitude is something the Bears need with such a staid coach in Smith, and . . .

What am I saying? Well, it’s possible. The Bears have a lot of season left, and their 5-1 record does break down this way: 5-0 against teams that now are at .500 or less, 0-1 against winning teams.

It’s OK. You have to win these games, too. And the Bears have to have Cutler the way he was on Monday.

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One more thing about Cutler on Monday: He brought the family of Chris Pettry to the game. Pettry was the Bears fan who went to Jacksonville, Fla., for a game, but was stabbed to death in a bar. Before the game, Cutler met with the family on the field.

“Yeah, we wanted to reach out and bring them to the game,’’ he said.

“There’s nothing I or anyone can say that can really ease their pain or bring anybody back. Hopefully, we were able to let them have an enjoyable time for three of four hours.’’

Compassionate Cutler.

Bring back more of him, please.

Tagged: Bears, Lions, Jay Cutler, Brandon Marshall, Ndamukong Suh

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