I have been known to say - and I will continue to say until one or both of us is dead and gone - that Bad Jay Cutler is just a force of nature. He shows up one or two times a season and takes a big ol' shit right there on the field, throwing away any goodwill he's built up with multiple good games. And this, I have long-since decided, is fine. Everyone has bad games. Jay's may be as spectacular as anybody but Brees (seriously, watch a bad Drew Brees game and just remember that this is Drew Brees), but there's not one quarterback in the NFL who doesn't have at least one head-scratchingly poor game a season.
Bad Jay may not let you know when he's coming to town; but you know that he's out there and if you're surprised when that game comes it's kind of your own fault for forgetting. I don't worry about Bad Jay. What I do worry about is Fuck It Jay.
Fuck It Jay is the Jay Cutler who earns the real criticism. He overthrows his receivers. He forces throws into windows that don't exist in coverages that even Rex Grossman would deem impassable. He plays with the air of a man who is already thinking about what he's going to order for dinner and just wants to get this football thing over with as quickly as possible. Fuck It Jay Cutler is the reason even his most ardent defenders find themselves thinking "Is my whole life a lie?" Er... I mean, thinking "Is this guy really that great?"
The first half of Sunday night's game was the first and only time I've ever seen Fuck It Jay take the field and think to myself, "You know what, Jay? You're right. Fuck it." He was standing in the pocket for seven seconds and nobody was getting open. His coach was feeding him a gameplan that seemed to consist solely of checkdowns to a covered Matt Forte, because he flat-out refused to find a way to scheme open a member of his hobbled Pro Bowl receiving tandem. His receivers dropped what few passes he was able to get to them, and the refs took away one of the most beautiful throws I've ever seen him make based on evidence a 9/11 Truther would describe as "sketchy, at best."
28 minutes into this football game, the Bears had eight total yards of offense. Eight. They were coming off three consecutive negative drives with a 17-point deficit in a game that was both soul-crushing and criminally boring. This game had the air of quiet desperation you can usually only find in the eyes of sober people who are still at Denny's when the bar-closing crowd turns up. The Bears were losing, but I'm certain 49ers fans weren't having any more fun watching it than we were.
So I was right there with Jay when he started chucking the ball 60 yards in the hope that Alshon Jeffery would suddenly start running at regular speed. I saw him make that decision, and I supported it wholeheartedly for the first time in my life. I was pretty much waiting for halftime so I could decree that I had done my duty as a fan and play Destiny until the pain went away.
But then, with under a minute to go in the first half, something amazing happened. Quinton Dial, which is apparently a real person's name and not just the protagonist of that novel your friend is always working on, speared the ever-loving shit out of Jay on yet another impossibly futile deep pass to Alshon in double coverage. This is the hit they make defenders watch when they put them in that weird lunatic-creating mind-jail from Minority Report. Brett Favre awoke in a cold sweat when Dial's helmet made contact, feeling a palpable anguish like some kind of Gunslinger Ben Kenobi. Cutler later described the moment as feeling his "chest hitting his backbone."
They threw the flag, they blew the whistle, and all of our hearts were desperately trying to claw their way out of our throats. And Jay got up. He didn't go sit on the bench and get examined. He didn't even leave the field. This was a hit that would've had most quarterbacks laying on the table. Half the guys in the league would've just sat the remaining 40 seconds and had the trainers take a good look in the locker room.
Not Jay Cutler, who is a soft pussy that wears ladies' underwear when he pees sitting down during the NFC Championship game. He got up, ran one laughably ineffective run play, and then threw four TDs as revenge.
After that hit, Jay was as crisp and brutally efficient as we have ever seen him. He threw one incompletion after that hit, going 13-14 for three touchdowns in the second half. And the reason I'm writing about this - the reason I think this may be one of the most important games I've ever seen him play - is because he came back.
Not from the scoring deficit. I don't give a shit about that. I'm glad they won, but they could've lost that game 30-28 and I still would've been happy because for the first time in his career, Fuck It Jay didn't stick around for the rest of the game. He put in an appearance, he overthrew some balls, and then he Hulked the fuck out on the road against a top-quality opponent and buried them.
I don't really believe in the general meatball idea of the "momentum swing," especially when your turning point is a TD pass at the end of the second half that leads to your opponent getting the ball back with a 10-point lead. But that hit and the subsequent pass are as sure an example as you're ever going to find of the momentum of a game shifting.
The defense, finally able to rest for more than ten seconds between drives, was able to turn an admirable performance into a stellar one. Kyle Fuller played his heart out in place of Charles Tillman, coming down with two interceptions that broke Kaepernick's spirit. The pressure that had been a step behind Kap all game finally started getting home, and the run defense prevented him from just running out of the pocket or using Frank Gore to get a breather.
Energized by their success, the offense kicked into gear and started battering San Fran's depleted secondary instead of trying to outrun them. Martellus Bennett very quietly shouldered the load while Brandon Marshall grabbed two more TDs to give the Bears their first lead of the game. Jeffery even managed to make a couple of plays that - while well below the standard we've come to expect from him when healthy - kept drives alive and ultimately put the Niners to bed.
And I want to say right now that all credit goes to the defense for the fact that this was even a game. They could've let this game get to 28-0 without really even earning any blame for themselves. With short fields (including one at the seven) and a massive time-of-possession advantage, the fact that the Niners only scored ten points on their first five drives is a testament to the work the defense put in.
But the story for me is still Fuck It Jay. Cutler's Achilles' heel has always been his decision-making, and that's a process that tends to snowball for him. He'll go multiple games without throwing a dumb pick, but once he throws the first one it seems increasingly likely that he'll throw another. But not this time. I know it's not ideal that it took an illegal hit to the chest to wake him up, but the fact that he did is an encouraging sign.
The dream under Trestman has always been a Jay Cutler who is free of Jay Cutler's decision-making. You can't take away his desire to unleash the dragon, to test his arm against opponents every once in a while. And I'd argue that you shouldn't. Despite our knee-jerk reaction that picks are bad, a 3rd-and-long deep ball that's intercepted at the opposing 15 isn't really any worse than a punt; and I'll trade that for a 50-50 between Brandon Marshall and a cornerback any day.
The thing we should try to take away is Fuck It Jay. And if last night is any indication, we're finally seeing progress on that front. He came back from circumstances as futile as any we've ever seen him play in, and he did it with his two favorite targets hobbled and a ground game that can barely be described as "anemic."
I'm not going to call him "fixed," both because that's pretty insulting and because it takes more than one time for me to say Fuck It Jay is a thing of the past. But if I were another team with playoff aspirations, I'd take very careful notice of what happened in Santa Clara on Sunday night. Not just because the Bears notched a road win against a tough opponent. Not just because a defense that was the laughingstock of the league last year played like a top-flight unit.
No, if I were them I'd be worried because Jay Cutler came back. I know for a fact that there are teams in this league that approach Jay Cutler with the idea that you can put everything into driving him into Fuck It territory and then wait for the meltdown. I'd be very surprised if some of those teams didn't look at their schedules just a little more apprehensively this morning.