Monday, November 21, 2011

When They Talk 'Bout Me

It's been a wild ass year for the Bears in 2011. After opening strong in week one, they played inconsistently the next four games, leaving us scratching our heads while trying to figure out who these Bears were. They lost their starting RT for the season after 2 games and also cut their starting SS during the bye week. But I think they most shocking aspect to the 2011 season is the way that the national perception of Jay Cutler has completely flipped from what it used to be.

For some bizarre reason, the national media has had something against Jay Cutler for as long as he's been a Chicago Bear. He was a rising star in Denver before being traded by the short-lived Josh McDaniels regime, even making the Pro Bowl in his final year there. At the time, it was being reported that he demanded a trade and forced his way out of Denver, so the media started calling him petulant. At that point in my life, and after 23+ years on this Earth, I had never even heard the word "petulant" come out of anybody's mouth. But all of a sudden, it was the hottest buzzword in all of sports, so everybody was saying it, trying to act smart. Some of you had never heard of it either and, to this day, would struggle to use it in a sentence.

Cutler didn't have the hottest start to his Chicago Bears career. His first appearance was a nationally televised game against the Packers where Cutler did not play well and was deservedly ripped for it. The very same week, the local media starting criticizing Cutler's body language on the sideline. Now this didn't come out of nowhere... the Denver media attacked his body language near the end of his time in Denver, however the Chicago papers ran with it -- and ran hard. They kept talking about it and talking about it, and with the Bears playing in five prime time games in 2009, the national media took their cue from the local rags and pushed this angle too.

During the 2010 season, the focus didn't change much. With the Bears playing in four prime time games, ESPN and NBC ran through the same, tired storylines that they used the year before. With the Bears being an up-and-down team, it was easy for the national media to continue to negatively portray Jay Cutler. It wasn't until after Cutler got hurt in the NFC Championship game that the Chicago papers really started to support him. The national coverage was absolutely destroying Cutler, but the local writers did a good job of defending him and refuting any claims that he wasn't tough.

And then this year, something funny happened when the Bears went to DET to play on Monday Night Football. No, the offensive line didn't finally read their job descriptions which all begin with, "Protect your fucking QB." They actually did the opposite. Cutler was almost bludgeoned to death, but still managed to throw for 249 yds and a TD without throwing an INT. All of a sudden, people recognized that Cutler was behind the worst offensive line in the NFL every week, and he started getting sympathy for it.

Was it suddenly becoming the cool thing do to stand behind Jay Cutler?

It sure seemed like it. One by one, the national analysts would step up and mention how Cutler never had a chance and that he did everything he could do against the Lions. Where were those idiots the two years before that?! They were finally saying what plenty of knowledgeable Bears fans and many bloggers had been saying the whole time, "It's not Cutler. It's the offensive line."

After that game, the offensive line decided to make their 2011 debut and kept Cutler relatively clean. He finished with 267 yds, 2 TDs and no INTs and showed what he can do when he's not running for his life. More and more analysts lined up behind Cutler, waiting for their turn to say something nice.

The next week Cutler had a pretty bad game in London versus the Buccaneers. But the Bears came out with a win and they were scheduled to play on MNF the next week. Throughout the week on ESPN Radio, Row Jaworski had a commercial where he previewed the matchup, specifically talking about how great Cutler had been playing recently. So Cutler had just come off a poor outing, yet he was being praised nationally.

And that's when I realized something had changed.

This was the complete opposite of what we'd seen and heard the prior two years. During those seasons, even when Cutler played well, people like Trent Dilfer continued to bash Cutler. But now, in 2011, Cutler was being overly praised when he didn't even have a good game. He went on to have a good game versus the Eagles, but then another poor outing against the Lions in week 10. But since the Bears kept winning, all of the analysts were talking up Jay Cutler like he was carrying them to victory every single week, when it was should have been more attributed to the defense and run game.

Of course, I have no problem with the love that Cutler's been getting nationally; it's just something I'm not used to. I almost don't trust the national guys, as if they're just waiting for Cutler to slip up so they can jump off his bandwagon before everyone else does. But now that he's out for at least the next six weeks, there's a ton of media attention finally recognizing how important Jay Cutler is to to this team. And while we know that Cutler is never going to publicly admit that he notices a difference with the way he's been covered lately, I hope that, privately, he can take these next few weeks and enjoy what it's like to finally get the benefit of the doubt.


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