Jay Cutler, Bears dominate sinking Vikings: Final score, 8 things to know
After a six-week absence, Cutler returns to lead Chicago to just its second win of the season
Turns out, all Jay Cutler needs is six weeks between starts. After a thumb injury in Week 2 that kept him sidelined until Monday night, we were having the usual Jay Cutler conversations. Should the Bears dump him after the season? Try to trade him before the deadline? Bench him for whoever else is on the roster and begin in earnest the search for the organization's next franchise quarterback?
If Cutler has taught us anything, it's that it's dangerous to put too much stock in one performance. But it's also hard to ignore just how well he played against the Vikings defense, which ranks second in the league, according to Football Outsiders. Put another way: Cutler looked like the guy who had a resurgence of sorts in 2015, when Adam Gase was the offensive coordinator. Gase is now the head coach in Miami and Dowell Loggains has assumed the play-calling duties -- and, it's worth noting, without much success until the Vikings came into town.
When it was over, Cutler was an efficient 20 of 31 for 252 yards and a touchdown. It was an impressive performance, particularly given that conventional wisdom had everybody giving up on Cutler one last time. It wasn't nearly as bad as the conversation late in the 2014 season that he would have to battle Jimmy Clausen for the job, but when people are wondering if you're Plan B behind journeyman Brian Hoyer, something has gone horribly wrong.
(We're not one to make excuses for Cutler, but this is insane)
Since 2009, Jay Cutler's had 6 offensive coordinators in Chicago. pic.twitter.com/0CHgZ1V0RR— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) November 1, 2016
But Hoyer, who was racking up ridiculous passing-yardage totals during Cutler's absence also wasn't able to get the Bears into the end zone. But he was doing enough for people to argue that he should keep the job. Then Hoyer suffered a broken arm in Week 7 and his season is all but over. Cutler's fate, meanwhile, remains undecided. No one would be surprised if he doesn't return to Chicago after the season. But for one night, he was pretty good. Good enough, in fact, to put a good team in need of an above-average quarterback over the hump. You know, like the Vikings.
2. Hey, remember Sam Bradford!
Your experiences probably mirror ours when it comes to Sam Bradford. We thought the Vikings were crazy to give up a first- and fourth-round pick for Bradford less than two weeks before the season opener because, well, it's Sam Bradford. He's been a replacement-level, injury-prone quarterback for much of his six-year career, and there was no reason to think that one of the most cliched terms in sports -- a change of scenery -- would suddenly do Bradford some good.
But that's exactly what happened. He made his Vikings debut in Week 2 against the Packers and completed 71 percent of his throws for 286 yards and two touchdowns. Bradford looked like a completely different quarterback, the one the Rams thought they were getting when they selected him with the No. 1 overall pick in 2010. But the Vikings' offense has sputtered in recent weeks and it's not because of Bradford.
Injuries have plagued the offensive line -- it lost both starting tackles -- and, oh by the way, the NFL's leading rusher from a year ago, Adrian Peterson, is out indefinitely. Even the best offenses struggle when they're one-dimensional, so you can understand why the Vikings might have trouble consistently moving the sticks, never mind getting into the end zone.
Again, this isn't all on Bradford, but it also doesn't change the fact that the Vikings gave up a first-rounder for him, presumably because they thought they could make a deep playoff run. And maybe that still happens, but after a 5-0 start, the Vikings have dropped two straight. Minnesota's all-world defense isn't able to do everything, and unless this offense can get back on track, the final two months could seem like an eternity.
Of course, who knows when Teddy Bridgewater will be ready to return. And if he's unavailable for training camp, Bradford is a decent security blanket. Even still, it's pricey insurance for a team that annually has to battle the Packers in the division.
3. Hey, look at Jordan Howard!
The Bears really have missed Matt Forte, both as a runner and a pass catcher. But they may have found something in Jordan Howard, the rookie fifth-rounder out of Indiana University by way of UAB. It was early and often for him against the Vikings, starting with this 69-yard run on the Bears' first series.
And when it was over, Howard had shredded the Vikings for 153 yards on 26 carries and a touchdown. He added another 49 yards on four receptions.
The Bears' offensive line is a huge question mark, but Howard's emergence is welcome news for Cutler, who was sacked just once on the night.
4. Hey look, Alshon Jeffery!
It wasn't long ago that Jeffery was considered one of the league's best young wide receivers. It certainly helped to have Brandon Marshall line up on the other side of the field. But with Marshall now with the Jets, and Cutler missing a month and a half, Jeffery had fallen on hard times. He hadn't logged 100 yards receiving since Cutler was injured -- and while he didn't do it on Monday night, either, he did manage to do something he hasn't done all year:
Hey, it's a start.
5. So now what, John Fox?
The Bears were right to dump Marc Trestman after the 2014 season but we remain confused about why they hired John Fox, who had been recently pink-slipped by the Broncos. The best thing Fox did was bring Adam Gase with him to Chicago, but now that Gase is gone, there's little reason for Fox to have a job. He was 6-10 in his first season, and before The Return of Cutler on Monday night, the Bears were an anemic 1-6.
Things were so bad that over the weekend, NFL.com's Ian Rapoport reported that the "team's brass has begun a full examination of the football operation from top to bottom" and have brought in "an outside consultant."
Pretty sure that doesn't happen in New England.
So while replacing Fox makes sense, no one's going to take the job without knowing the quarterback situation. And that brings us back to Cutler.
6. Meanwhile, Mike Zimmer may have some thoughts
We'll be interested to see how Vikings coach Mike Zimmer calls out his team this week. After getting manhandled by the Eagles in they first loss of the season in Week 7, here's what Zim had to say about his offensive line.
"They didn't block anybody. They were soft. Got overpowered. Their safety beat the tackle one time. The safety beat the back a couple of times. It was a little bit of man-on-man. And we got whipped."
Things didn't get any better against the Bears' defense, a unit decidedly worse than the Eagles.
In related news: Hide the stuffed animals. Just in case.
7. Where things stand
The Vikings are now 5-2 and just a game up on the Packers in the NFC North. Minnesota hosts Detroit (4-4) this Sunday. The Bears, meanwhile, are now 2-6 and are now on their bye week. They'll host the Buccaneers in Week 10.
8. Last, least
Happy Halloween, nerds
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