(MCT) — MINNEAPOLIS — To understand what kind of day it was for Jay Cutler, know that Jason Campbell, the allegedly incompetent backup, was able to put as many points on the board in one drive as Cutler was in 11.
That’s if you don’t count the 14 points Cutler gave the Vikings on a pick-six and another interception that was brought back to the Bears’ 5.
The pregame spin said this was the game the Bears needed Cutler to step up. Brian Urlacher was out. The defense was worn down. The fourth quarter of the season had begun.
The NFC North Division title depended on it, depended on him.
Cutler struggled, completing only half of his 44 passes and finishing with a 57.0 passer rating.
Of course, he might have made it all better in the fourth quarter if not for circumstances beyond his control.
On third-and-6 from the Vikings’ 23, Cutler put a throw exactly where it needed to be for Devin Hester. What should have been a touchdown bounced off Hester’s hands.
Then on fourth-and-6, Brandon Marshall dropped a pass over the middle that should have been caught for a first down.
Hester, still stinging from his drop, slammed his helmet to the ground, sending ear pads, a chin strap and various other pieces of the hat flying like shrapnel.
Will that be the enduring image of the 2012 Bears season?
“I was just trying to pull it in,” Hester said. “It was so easy. Right there, wide open. I just couldn’t pull it in.”
As Hester gathered up the pieces of his helmet, Cutler walked off the field for the last time. Campbell would take the last drive, making some of the plays Cutler failed to make.
By then, Cutler’s neck had started to stiffen. Earlier in the drive, he was high-lowed by Everson Griffen and Jared Allen, and Cutler will be feeling Griffen’s hit for the foreseeable future.
Cutler was sacked twice, but he was hit a dozen more times. Given all the help the Bears were giving their offensive linemen, Cutler was harassed too much. And it showed.
“We tried to really take our shots at him with the rush,” Allen said. “We were able to get him off his mark and force him into some bad throws. I think he was cognizant of the rush, and our coverage downfield was so tight that it’s tough to put some of those throws in windows.”
There were other breakdowns around Cutler as well.
His first interception came at the worst possible time, with the Bears trying to dig out of a 7-0 hole on their first possession. It should not have been an interception, however.
Rookie Alshon Jeffery stumbled and fell coming out of his break. He said his feet got tangled with cornerback Josh Robinson’s. But Robinson stayed on his, caught the pass and brought it back 44 yards to the Bears’ 5-yard line. Three plays later, the Vikings had a 14-0 lead.
There were other balls that could have been caught. Jeffery dropped one in the end zone. Marshall blamed himself for not hanging on to a well-defended pass on third-and-8 midway through the third quarter.
“I have to make that play,” Marshall said. “That was a momentum play. If we move the chains, the game is probably different.”
On Cutler’s other interception, on the next drive, his pass over the middle for Marshall sailed high, where only Vikings safety Harrison Smith could catch it. Smith brought it back 56 yards for the score.
“I couldn’t really follow through,” Cutler said of pass rushers around him. “We got the coverage we wanted, trying to get it across the middle. It sailed on me.”
Cutler wasn’t the cause of all the Bears’ offensive problems, but he wasn’t the solution either.
He is supposed affect the game to a much greater degree than Christian Ponder, who was booed as he jogged onto the field in pregame introductions and was a Vikings asset mostly for his ability not to fumble handoffs to Adrian Peterson.
“There were a lot of problems offensively,” Cutler said. “I didn’t play well. You have to start with me offensively. Interceptions, doesn’t matter how they happen, they happened.”
Yes, Cutler’s teammates let him down Sunday. But in the NFL standings, there is no asterisk for having good excuses.
As bad as it all seems now for the Bears and their quarterback, Cutler will have a chance for redemption in seven short days.
The quarterback needs to carry the day.