While the aftermath of that game was disappointing to Bears fans, no one was more disappointed by the outcome than Jay Cutler, who missed most of the second half due to a knee injury.
Not only did Cutler have to deal with missing the second half of the most important game of his career, he also had to endure negative comments from his peers about being soft, as per Jim Trotter of Sports Illustrated.
In spite of the many criticisms Cutler has received, here are a few reasons why Cutler deserves some of the credit for the team's early success this season.
In past seasons, Cutler was notorious for trying to force the ball into tight coverages, which often led to turnovers for the opposing team.
In fact, Cutler threw almost as many interceptions (26) as he did touchdowns (27) during his first year in Chicago.
This year, Cutler's decision-making has improved, which has resulted in six touchdown passes against three interceptions—giving him a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 2.0.
Another area where Cutler has shown growth is with his dependency on Brandon Marshall.
Because of Cutler's willingness to go through his progressions, Chicago has a balanced passing attack, and the ESPN stat chart below supports this assertion.
Willingness To Follow His Coach's Lead
It is not always easy to take direction from a person in authority, especially if the individual happens to be new on the job.
However, this has not been the case with Cutler and Marc Trestman. Not only has Cutler praised Trestman for his knowledge of the game, he also remained patient when Trestman opted to play a more conservative offense in the second half of the team's 40-23 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Per Michael C. Wright of ESPN Chicago, Cutler offered the following statement regarding the toned-down play of the offense in the second half:
It’s not something I’m used to. We have been practicing ball security a lot. We were sitting pretty good early on and we didn’t want to give them anything easy, especially when they started getting a little momentum. We didn’t want to force the ball. We didn’t want to give them positioning in our territory. We just wanted to be patient, and we caught man [coverage] there that last play, and we were able to get a big one to Earl.
The above statement proves that Cutler is willing to stick to the game plan even if it is something he is not accustomed to doing.
This trait will certainly bode well for the team going forward.
Let's move on to my final point.
In Week 1 against the Cincinnati Bengals, Cutler helped the Bears rally from an 11-point, second-half deficit to record a 24-21 victory—a contest they could have easily lost.
The following week against the Minnesota Vikings, Cutler led the team on a scoring drive that was capped off with a beautiful 16-yard touchdown pass to Martellus Bennett with 10 seconds left in regulation. Cutler completed eight of 10 passes for 76 yards on the game's final drive.
Although the stats do not show as much, Cutler was at his best against the Steelers in Week 3. Despite facing an aggressive pass rush for most of the night, he found ways to quickly get rid of the football, and most importantly, he did not throw an interception.
While Cutler only threw for only 159 yards and one touchdown, the fact that he remained calm when the Steelers trimmed a three-touchdown deficit to just four points shows how cool he can be under pressure.
To further make my point, I will throw out one more interesting statistic for you to ponder.
In his last five dropbacks in the fourth quarter of the first three games, Cutler is 12-for-14 for 208 yards to go along with three touchdowns and zero interceptions, per Mark Potash of the Chicago Sun-Times.
For those of you keeping score at home, this means that he has been good when the team needs it the most.
Maybe the transformation we have seen in Cutler so far this season is because of the new coaching regime or the fact that he is maturing as a player.
Whatever the reason may be, the team's success will ultimately depend on how well he plays and responds to adversity during the remainder of the season.
Yes, I know there is a lot of football left to be played, but if Cutler continues to deliver in the clutch, the Bears definitely have a chance to be a legitimate playoff contender.