Sunday, January 16, 2011
Jay Cutler Impeccable, But Only Because of Bears Relentless Defense
So this is what Chicago has become, an enthusiastic sports town of believers, very optimistic the Chicago Bears can reach a pinnacle.
All week, after the beloved Bears escaped hibernation, the fans in the sizable community have raved about the Bears, one of the likable pro franchises in a town afflicted by futility and championship misfortunes. If Chicago wins the NFC Championship Game, which takes place next weekend against the divisional nemesis Green Bay Packers, the Bears earn a trip to the Super Bowl.
"We're both familiar with each other, so nothing's going to be new," Jay Cutler said. "We have our hands full."
A win over the Seattle Seahawks, the flukiest contenders in the playoffs, wasn't enough to convince people that the Bears are the toughest, competent competitors of the Midwest. For the Bears, a relentlessly defensive structured franchise ready to encounter an epic showpiece in NFL history, this would be an incredible rebirth. So pathetically, for a passionate community that embraces sports and crowds Soldier Field on frigid afternoons, rain or shine, to observe their Bears play, the fans really believe they can ride all the way to the Super Bowl.
But frankly, the Bears had the easiest draw of the divisional round with the 7-9 Seahawks for a respectable date in the bone-chilling confines of the Windy City. A sellout crowd, finally optimistic that a remarkable joyride is under way, believes he's a franchise quarterback after reaching another level in NFL playoffs for the first time in his disillusioned career, a career that has been a nightmare in hell. No matter how fascinating he was on the field for a critical game, when times called for desperation measures, he's not always consistent.
It would be wise, not to mention that he's disliked by many or that he's arrogant, to tell the world that Jay Cutler is a pompous, spoiled individual. He doesn't care to talk with the media much, nor does he like the spotlight. For those of you who have no idea, he dates reality television star Kristin Cavallari. But it shouldn't really matter, right? All that really matters is, not only his attitude as far as his personality, but how he plays each week.
It seems absurd to adulate a shaky Cutler as a primary star in Chicago when there have been numerous occasions that he struggled and had anger outburst on the sideline if he underperformed in the quarterback role. As aloof in public, very private in sharing personal beliefs or even his life outside of football, he does somehow find a way to save the town from further mortification and disadvantages. With strong beliefs and proud faces, the Bears faithful offers moral support, but are they really good?
With the exception of his mobility in the pocket to fundamentally outrun an ineffective defense, Cutler ran for two touchdowns. That alone was, oddly enough, a beautiful highlight if you were rooting for the Bears, confirming logically to the world that the improbable Seahawks were a mirage and barely qualified for the playoffs because of their weak division. This was a breakout game for Cutler, a quarterback who is nearly a franchise bust in the Windy City, disappointingly stumbling in the hardest role on the field.
But now, as he gradually improves and matures, no longer taking issues personally but as a business matter, he was an overmatch for Seattle. Although it seemed as if the Seahawks weren't supposed to be in the playoffs, especially after the Bears dismantled Seattle 35-24 on Sunday, they were supposed to be here with a pitiful record. It's always fun to watch the underdog attempt the unbelievable or the improbability in sports, a storybook display that fuels the heart and soul of fans.
From the outset, though, the Seahawks were no match for the Bears, pummeling their opponent while the snowflakes dropped from the overcast skies in Chicago. At home, as expected, the Bears are accustomed to playing through the elements, and the weather conditions were anything but friendly in the first-half. For one thing, the Bears were in command and scored 21 first-half points that pretty much doomed the momentum of the highly confident Seahawks.
But the truth is, with coach Lovie Smith attuned to running the Cover 2 style defense, the Bears consist of a hellacious and brawny defense, a violent style of punishing, brutal hits to shut down their opponents. The fact is, the defense once again was monstrous and violently interrupted the capacity of a talented offense that compiled 41 points against New Orleans last week.
In his first taste of postseason action, flawless essentially to remove doubtful looks from the faces of people who don't believe, Cutler is efficient for rising as a top quarterback in the league; he was splendid in the pocket and had a six-yard touchdown run to give the Bears a comfortable 21-0 lead. It might be fitting to realize that the Bears defensive force stayed intact, with the presence of first-year defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli, who constantly encourages his defensive players to watch film and make useful adjustments to sharpen the persistence and firmness in the platoon of a compelling defense.
But it's an unavoidable question whether or not the Bears can win it all. Turns out, with the pedigree of the Packers, it will be tough to beat the hottest team thus far in the playoffs. This time, facing maybe the best quarterback in these playoffs, the Bears will be tested mentally and physically. It's hard to imagine that Chicago will beat the Packers after barely clinching a playoff berth with two games left, claiming its first NFC North championship since 2006, the last time they appeared in the Super Bowl in which the Bears lost to the Colts.
But then, on three of its first four possessions, Chicago expanded the lead with touchdowns, in which middle linebacker Brian Urlacher bullied Matt Hasselbeck at the line of scrimmage. As always, he leads a defense that has potential to clinch the NFC and play for the Super Bowl title, along with his counterparts Julius Peppers and Lance Briggs.
If the Bears defense continues to polish as formidable as the 2006 defensive unit, it's because of the boisterous pass rush, partly for the presence of Peppers that presumably gives Chicago a slight chance to hoist the proudest prize in football.
While Cutler is flawless lately in the national scene, particularly bailed out by the superlative defense, he can focus on limiting harmful mistakes. And with that, he fired a perfect throw downfield to tight end Greg Olsen for a 58-yard touchdown that gave the Bears a 7-0 lead. On the field long after the first drive, several plays later as the Bears strategy was to create an onslaught in the middle of the field, Cutler found Johnny Knox for an 18-yard pass. So next week, it will be Cutler vs. Rodgers in an epic quarterback duel and could turn out to be a breathless classic.
"If Green Bay comes out and plays like they played [Saturday] night against Atlanta it's going to be a tough day for us," said Chicago cornerback Charles Tillman, who made life miserable for Seahawks receiver Mike Williams.
Still, from the last matchup, Cutler can recall when he was a victim of turnovers and abused against the Packers fierce pass rush. If he plays poorly, the Bears can forget it.
"It doesn't get any bigger than this," said Cutler.
No, it doesn't.