Jay Cutler dropped the f-bomb on his own fans, and Cam Newton strangely left the field in seclusion and didn’t congratulate, hug or even recognize a teammate who had saved him by recovering his reckless fumble in the end zone for a touchdown.
So it was a special moment Sunday when these two quarterbacks, now known for their self-absorption and sulking, faced each other. It was the NFL’s first Body Language Bowl, and Cutler won. The Bears beat the Panthers 23-22 on a last-second field goal.
“You know, B (receiver Brandon Marshall) asked me, ‘They’re booing us out there?’" Cutler said, talking about the reaction to the Bears as they left the field at halftime. “I mean, I’d boo us, too. I told those guys it was a boo-worthy performance.’’
How level-headed and composed of Cutler! It would have been so much easier to believe, though, if it weren’t for YouTube. It didn’t take much lip-reading skill to see, on a video, that Cutler had actually stared at the booing crowd and said, “These f—ing fans.’’
But Cutler won again. He keeps winning. The Bears are 6-1 after Cutler led a last-minute drive, the kind that we usually equate with character. It was grace under pressure. Meanwhile, the Panthers are 1-6, and Newton is not having anywhere near the year he had as a rookie star last season.
He has come off as a crybaby, too. It’s the kind of criticism you get as a quarterback. Cutler knows.
But the expectations are too high for Newton. This is only his second season, and young guys have plenty of ups and downs. People were so blinded by how great he was in the first half of last season that they forget he had shaky moments later last year, too.
He’s still learning, still growing. He can still change. And he shows hints that he might. He had his team in position to win, on the road, against what might be the best defense in the league.
On Sunday, he made some terrible throws, and also some good ones. He threw too hard at times, possibly letting his anger affect his play.
But late in the game when the Panthers needed a field goal, Newton was about to get sacked when he sprinted out of the pocket and threw the ball away, avoiding the intentional grounding call and keeping within his kicker’s outer-range. It was smart and composed.
Newton did throw an interception in the crucial final few minutes, and it was run back for a touchdown. It looked awful, but receiver Steve Smith had slipped and fallen on a timing pattern.
“I shouldn’t have thrown the ball,’’ Newton said. “When the ball was coming out of my hand, I kind of felt him slipping. I just wanted to give Steve a chance.
“There’s a lot of emotions going through my head right now, and I’d rather not say. There’s still some things I feel I could have (done) better.’’
Newton is not the greatest, at least not yet, with standing behind a microphone and spitting out things eloquently. He will learn. But that was a good answer. First, he took the blame for something that absolutely, positively was not his fault.
And also, I think he was saying that while he ‘s not happy about a lot of things around him, he also knows that he has his own improving to do. And he didn’t want to talk about those other things.
How could he be happy? Newton said last week that the team needed to make changes, and then this week, GM Marty Hurney – who overspent big-time on two running backs – was fired. The franchise is a mess, and Coach Ron Rivera is going to be the next one out.
Newton has a terrible atmosphere to learn in. And that’s not to say his moping has been misunderstood, but only that it is somewhat understandable, and possibly something he can grow out of.
He did fumble in the second quarter, recklessly trying to get the ball over the goal line. He held out the ball, and the Bears swatted it out of his hands. Receiver Louis Murphy fell on the ball for a touchdown, saving Newton, who then slumped off and sat by himself on the sideline.
That would have been the moment to make a show of Murphy, to show support for a teammate. So I asked Newton about his reaction.
“Sir, I sit at the same spot each and every possession, each and every time on the sideline,’’ he said. “Maybe the coach was going over a couple things. Was I angry at myself? Yes, I was.
“I was very excited, lucky one of our guys got the football, (that) Louis Murphy was aware of what was going on. I just have to do a better job. I expect more of myself.’’
The thing is, Newton is moping because he’s depressed about the way things are going. Cutler is moping because, well, that’s who he is.
Earlier in the week, when asked about fans cheering Cutler when he had re-entered the game against Detroit after getting hurt, he said it was nice that the fans were finally coming around to him. Four days later, he was dropping the f-bomb on them.
You know, there is reason to believe that Cutler will win this way. For me, the problem is that I find myself believing that every year. You get sucked in by his undeniable talent. But then comes the inevitable disappointment at the worst possible time.
What makes that happen?
That said, Cutler has never had decent receivers until now. He is talented, and you can argue that he is just providing attitude for a team led by Lovie Smith, the most bland head coach imaginable.
The Bears trailed 19-7 with 10 minutes left when the Panthers shanked a 6-yard punt. Cutler then led a 38-yard touchdown drive. When the Panthers made a field goal with 2:27 left, they led 22-20.
And then Cutler led the kind of drive great quarterbacks always make.
He completed short pass after short pass, going 6-for-7 mostly to Brandon Marshall, to set up the game-winning field goal.
So maybe now that Cutler has help around him, the talent will bring him through? Sorry, but I just can’t get sucked in again. He bumped his own offensive lineman in anger earlier this year, and walked off in a huff when his coach wanted to talk to him.
It’s dangerous to read body language. But there is something about composure that matters to leadership. Character is at least part of the supreme equation that separates the elite from the rest, isn’t it?