Well, that was fun.
If you've read even one post on this blog you can probably imagine my mental state when Jay Cutler went down after that play. In a second the entire Bears 2013 season went up in flames, most likely, and I had to learn to live with that.
I have. I have chosen to not to cling to the fleeting hope of McCown somehow keeping the Bears afloat through the Cutler-less period so that Jay can carry the team into the playoffs. I did that in 2011 and it crushed me once, so I've taken the road I usually don't travel and embraced the worst-case scenario. The Bears are more than welcome to prove me wrong, but for now here are the facts:
1) This defense is hopelessly and irrevocably lost, and that makes Phil Emery's job easier.
If the Bears defense had repeated its 2012 efforts and Jay had stayed healthy, Phil would have had one hell of a challenge in figuring out how to bring back so many of the key performers and keep this team's financial situation intact. It's a problem we'd have all have been glad to see him deal with, but that ain't happening now. I'll get to my thoughts on what they should do with Cutler in a minute but the simple fact is the defense is now a clean slate for Phil.
Does he want to toss Charles Tillman without dealing with Urlacher-esque levels of fan revolt? He should have no problem doing so now. Idiots thought Charles was a bad corner when he was dominating in the Cover 2. Now that he's injury-riddled and struggling through a crap season he'll make parting an easy decision.
Tim Jennings days may not be numbered, as he's still a serviceable number two, but he also hasn't made a strong case for top dollars, either. He's likely to be re-signed, I think, but again, Emery has a free hand here.
Major Wright? Barring a miraculous turn-around he's gone. Chris Conte too, most likely. Bostic gets a whole season to grow into the MLB role, so DJ Williams is presumably gone as well.
Julius Peppers? Can't imagine Emery keeping him in lieu of the near eight million dollars in cap room they can save by throwing him overboard as well.
In short, there's no one on that entire side of the ball who is untouchable. Naturally re-tooling an entire defense isn't exactly easy, but Emery's decision-making process should be completely unfettered by attachments to old defensive stalwarts. He should also have the upper hand in negotiations with any players he does want to bring back because you can often hold the sins of the group against the individual in situations like this.
There is at least hope that a defense can be vastly improved in off season. The turnaround of the Saints and Titans this year is evidence of that. The eventual changing of the guard on defense was always going to be painful, but at least a massive collapse on all fronts could hopefully result in just one traumatic offseason overhaul and not a long process strung out over several years of decline.
2) Marc Trestman was the Right Hire. Trestman's reputation on offense is deserved. In one offseason he appeared to have turned around Jay Cutler, he helped Alshon Jeffery transition from a talented and flawed rookie into a guy in the middle of a Pro Bowl caliber season, and he developed a scheme that effectively ran and threw the ball behind an offensive line that is still growing as a unit. He managed to coax 24 points out of Josh McCown in one half. The Bears are 2nd in the NFL in scoring and Trestman deserves the bulk of the credit for that.
More importantly than just the rapid offensive improvement, however, is that Trestman is the right coach for the situation the franchise is in. If this team is going to contend going forward it will be as an offense-first team, and Trestman has gotten them pointed in the right direction on that front. Whether he can avoid a Lovie's perpetual inability to fix the side of the ball he isn't directly invested in will be the challenge going forward, but, given the cards he has been dealt, I think Trestman's done the best he can and will build a consistent winner if he's given a healthy quarterback and a defense that can at least go out and not embarrass themselves.
3) Jay Cutler should be the Quarterback in 2014. He's earned that much. Phil Emery clearly believed in Jay Cutler enough to tailor an offense around him and at least give him a chance to show he can be a productive quarterback in a real offense. Through six games Jay had done more than enough to validate that faith, with top ten rankings in nearly every passing category and a top ten grade from Pro Football Focus.com.
The question with Jay Cutler remains the same. Do you think you're closer to a Superbowl with him or without him? I think with him, because any rookie QB is going to be brought into an offense that was built for Jay Cutler and any rookie QB worth his salt is going to require the expense of a high draft pick that can't then be used to fix the dumpster fire defense. You've already been forced into a total rebuild on one side of the ball by circumstance, there's no need to compound your issues by potentially wasting the last productive years of guys like Marshall and Forte on a developing young QB. Others have suggested trading those guys for picks in the rebuild, which makes so little sense I can't even begin to process it. Would you not use those picks in building an offense that will hopefully be as productive as the one you have right now?
In the end, I think Cutler will, at worst, get the franchise tag. If he comes back for a significant chunk of the second half of this season and keeps up the pace he established in the first six games, perhaps he'll still get his big money extension, but those hoping this injury heralds the start of a new era at quarterback for the Bears aren't likely to get their wish. Phil Emery, is, as he said today in his press conference, "a Jay Cutler fan," and that'll shape the direction of the team for at least one more year.
Even if this season is over from a contention standpoint, there are still things to look forward to. Matt Forte, Alshon Jeffery, Brandon Marshall, and Martellus Bennett can still make strides as a group, as can that offensive line. When Jay comes back he may find things better than he left them. Jon Bostic can perhaps give us one f*&king bright light on defense.
Perhaps most importantly, we can watch and see how Marc Trestman handles the shit cards he's been dealt. Lovie, too, dealt with injuries his first year and saw things turn around in year two when fortunes were more favorable. I have faith Trestman can guide an even more impressive turnaround.