CHICAGO -- Over here, we have Good Jay. Over there, it's Bad Jay. Now the question: Which one shows up for next week's NFC Championship Game?
Will it be the Jay Cutler who destroyed Seattle in a 35-24 beatdown Sunday. Or the Jay Cutler who was sacked, intercepted and ineffective in Chicago's last appearance before this weekend, a 10-3 Week 17 loss to Green Bay? Inquiring minds need to know.
Because if it's Good Jay, we have a developing story. Until this season, the guy hadn't had a winning season anywhere since high school, a tour that included four years at Vanderbilt, three with the Denver Broncos and one with the Bears. But now ... now not only does he have a playoff victory; he has the Bears within a victory of another Super Bowl Shuffle, with a defeat of Green Bay next Sunday all that's left to punch the ticket.
"It doesn't get any bigger than this," said Cutler.
Yeah, we know, but Chicago has the Packers right where they want them -- Soldier Field. Green Bay has lost three of its past four here and hasn't scored more than 21 points in any of those games -- including a 20-17 loss earlier this season.
But it's the Packers, not the Bears, that are the trendy pick to go all the way, and it's not just because most people don't know which Cutler shows up. It's because they don't care. Basically, they trust Aaron Rodgers more than they do Jay Cutler, and can you blame them?
But this isn't about Rodgers vs. Cutler. It's about Cutler vs. Dom Capers, and if you don't know Dom Capers by now you will soon. He's the Packers' defensive coordinator charged with shutting down Cutler, and it's a task he has tackled before. Since taking over the Green Bay defense, Capers has had to defend Cutler four times, and almost always he has been successful. He's 3-1 against the guy, holding him to a 56 percent completion rate, with four touchdowns, nine interceptions and a passer rating of 57.49.
|More on Seahawks-Bears|
The last time these two met, Cutler not only was sacked six times and didn't throw a touchdown pass, but the Bears couldn't produce a touchdown, period -- with a last-gasp drive short-circuited with 10 seconds left when Nick Collins intercepted Cutler at the Green Bay 11.
That victory launched Green Bay into the playoffs as the sixth seed, and blame it on Cutler ... or blame it on Capers. All I know is that the team that can keep Chicago from its second Super Bowl appearance in five seasons is the team the Bears could have kept out of the playoffs altogether with a simple victory in the season finale. But they didn't, so now it's Good Jay or Bad Jay ... that is the question ... and it's up to Capers and the high-flying Packers to fill in the blanks.
"They do a great job of scheming us," said Cutler. "They're going to show us a lot of different looks. They're going to fool you and do a lot of different things before the snap of the ball. The way they use those linebackers ... they kind of walk them around. And Charles Woodson, one of the best nickels in their D, especially blitzing off the edge and timing stuff on you. They do a good job of disrupting."
Nevertheless, Cutler seldom has been sharper than he was in his latest performance. He threw two touchdowns, he ran for two others and he produced a season-high 43 yards rushing -- or as many as in his past five regular-season starts. In short, he was more Great Jay than Good Jay, and it's about time.
But I'll be honest: I'm not sure what it means. Because as impressive as he and the Bears were Sunday, they hammered an opponent that was undermanned and overwhelmed. These weren't the Seattle Seahawks of last weekend; these were the Seattle Seahawks of last season, not very good on offense and worse on defense -- a distant cousin to the team that beat Chicago here in October.
|A week after the Seahawks surprised everyone by beating New Orleans, they looked a lot more like a 7-9 division champ. Matt Hasselbeck was sharp, but his receivers had too many drops to count, and the run game never got going after showing signs of life the previous two games. Seattle’s defense couldn’t pressure Jay Cutler, and the Bears QB made the Seahawks pay with a big game passing and running the ball. When Cutler did make poor decisions, Seattle’s defensive backs couldn’t hang onto potential interceptions.|
|By John Boyle|
|The Bears took out the trash, getting the job done early as needed. Given two weeks, Mike Martz came up with something new -- the use of recently invisible tight end Greg Olsen -- as the Bears' passing attack clicked early for big plays. The secondary played tight on Seahawks receivers and QB Jay Cutler avoided huge mistakes. Shaky pass blocking remains a concern.|
|By Gene Chamberlain|
"The difference," said Seattle safety Lawyer Milloy, "was that we didn't pressure [Cutler]. He had more time today. But I'm not going to take anything away from Jay. He did everything against us he was supposed to do."
He has that right all the way around. Cutler wasn't pressured as he was in October, when Seattle sacked him six times. Receivers went uncovered. Tight ends combined for 155 yards and two TDs. The running game produced 176 yards. And the Bears converted 56 percent of their third downs where they converted none -- yep, 0-for-12 -- in October.
Bottom line: This was a lopsided victory, with the Bears assuming control from the beginning. On the third play from scrimmage Cutler hit tight end Greg Olsen down the middle for a 58-yard score, and the rout was on. The Bears were never threatened afterward, jumping to a 28-point lead before Seattle kicked a field goal.
OK, so Seattle stunk. Say this about Cutler: He made the plays that were there. And he made the plays that weren't there in October.
"I don't know that you're going to get any better performance out of a quarterback," Olsen said. "I don't know what he threw for, but who cares? Two runs for touchdowns. Two thrown for touchdowns. No turnovers; taking care of the football; making those decisions and moving us up and down the field. I don't know what more he could've done from that position in any game, let alone a huge playoff game. You can't give him enough credit for what he did."
And I do. But I've seen the guy flash before, only to lapse into the Jay Cutler we watched two weeks ago in Lambeau Field: a quarterback with a strong arm who can make nice throws, make big plays but, eventually, screws up when you absolutely, positively have to have something good happen. In that game, he had one pass intercepted in the Green Bay end zone and another on Chicago's final drive. I know it happens. It just happens far too often to get a read on this guy.
So what happens now: We've seen an afternoon of Good Jay. Will it be Bad Jay next?
"If Green Bay comes out and plays like they played [Saturday] night against Atlanta it's going to be a tough day for us," said Chicago cornerback Charles Tillman.
And if Jay Cutler plays like he did against the Packers the last time it's going to be tougher. Your move, Jay.