Commentary: Jay Cutler chasing Aaron Rodgers
Chicago ? If the NFC championship game were a gunfight, Jay Cutler never got his pistol out of his holster. Aaron Rodgers staggered the Bears before they knew what hit them.
The duel went to Rodgers.
The game went to the Packers.
And the Bears were left wondering if Rodgers will keep winning these gunfights. In Cutler’s 10 quarters against the Packers this season, he led the Bears to 16 points.
Rodgers’ final numbers were not impressive, but his impact on the game was. On the opening drive, he carved up the Bears defense by going 5-for-5 for 76 yards, then ran it in for a 7-0 lead.
He helped double the lead in the second quarter by directing another scoring drive.
Maybe this would be a different story if Cutler had not hurt his knee. Maybe he would have led a heroic comeback, and Chicago would be celebrating the day Cutler overthrew the quarterback king in the NFC North. Instead, Chicago is ruing the day Cutler twice overthrew Devin Hester deep.
Cutler completed only two passes to wide receivers and failed to put a point on the board in two quarters. He fumbled once and was intercepted on his final throw, though he apparently was injured at the time.
You can criticize Cutler for a lot of things, but toughness is not one of them. He takes big hits and bounces back. He might be able to withstand punishment as well as any quarterback I’ve seen, dating to his days at Vanderbilt. If anything, he might be too tough for his own good.
So, in what could have been a defining game, courage wasn’t the issue as much as efficiency.
As it turned out, Cutler was less efficient than not only Rodgers, but also Caleb Hanie, who is supposed to be a professional clipboard holder.
“I kind of wish we had Jay in there the whole game the way things were going,” Packers linebacker Clay Matthews said.
If, as he matures, Cutler becomes the second-best quarterback in the NFL, it might not be good enough if the best is Rodgers. He’ll always be Cutler’s standard because he’ll be standing between Cutler and his ultimate goals as long as Cutler is a Bear and Rodgers a Packer.
If the rivalry develops to its ultimate form, Cutler and Rodgers will continue to elevate their games and bring out the best in each other twice, maybe three times every season. That’s a nice scenario to dream about.
But Cutler has some catching up to do. Rodgers is a Super Bowl quarterback.
At this stage of Cutler’s career, he is not where Rodgers is. Both are 27. Cutler is one year behind Rodgers in NFL experience. But Rodgers is more of an old soul of a quarterback.
He has been in the same offense for his entire career, playing for the same head coach for five years. He has been throwing passes to Donald Driver since his first season and Greg Jennings since his second.
Cutler has played under four offensive coordinators. He still is getting to know his latest offense, his third in three years. He still is getting to know his receivers. It’s a process that can’t be rushed.
Cutler might never get to where Rodgers is, but if there is any chance of closing the gap, it will be through continuity. The Bears can’t keep changing wide receivers, offensive coordinators or head coaches.
They have a good thing going. They just haven’t had it going long enough.