The Bears entered this season with expectations that were a little bit low considering that last season they went 11-5, won the NFC North and made the NFC Championship game without losing any irreplaceable players this offseason. According to Grantland’s football statistician Bill Barnwell, the Bears were beneficiaries of an immense amount of luck last season. Barnwell pointed out that “Football Outsiders estimated that the Bears would have won just 8.2 games against an average schedule with average luck.” Vegas odds had the Bears at +836 to win the NFC North this season which means that $100.00 bet on this result would return the original bet plus $836.00.
As we are all well aware, Jay Cutler has been especially maligned. Fans and media had always taken issue with Cutler’s body language and decision-making but in the wake of the Bears’ loss to the Packers his toughness was questioned. The extent of Cutler bashing reached epic proportions on a national level as fans, media and even other players lined up to take their shots. The message was resoundingly clear: Jay Cutler is a pussy who is ill-equipped to lead a professional football team.
Whether this disparagement was appropriate or undeserved, it clearly motivated Cutler in a manner that past criticism and getting traded by the team that drafted him did not. Throughout training camp and the preseason we heard that Cutler was in superb shape and dialed in. However, we have heard this so many times about so many players that we are understandably wary about believing the hype before the real games start. From the opening snap, though, it was obvious that Cutler had a chip on his shoulder and that his physical and emotional fire was permeating through to the rest of the Bears on both sides of the ball.
While being careful not to draw conclusions too strongly from a one game sample size, there was a lot to be optimistic about for Bears fans. The Bears beat a Falcons squad that went 13-3 last season and was picked by many experts to be strong contenders again this year. The Bears defense was stalwart, giving up no touchdowns and just two field goals until the game was out of hand. With Julius Peppers, Amobi Okoye, Israel Idonije, and Henry Melton, they have one of the best defensive lines in the league. The seemingly ageless Brian Urlacher was everywhere with 10 tackles, an interception and the aforemtentioned fumble recovery.
On offense, Matt Forte looked like one of the best running backs in the league, rushing 16 times for 68 yards and catching five balls for 90 yards and a touchdown. Jay Cutler played an unbelievable game, completing 22 of his 32 passes for 312 yards, two touchdowns and one interception (on a tipped ball). The lone sore spot was familiarly the offensive line, which despite adding tackle Gabe Carimi in the first round of the draft, gave up four sacks. Somehow, the Bears need to better their protection or at some point Cutler won’t get back up.
As mentioned before, Cutler had a fiery focus that we really have not seen before from him. While it is fascinating that he could be so motivated by spite–so much more so than from the intrinsic value of fulfilling his potential–this is human nature. Anybody who has ever been slighted personally or professionally (read: all of us) can empathize with the hellbent determination Cutler seems to now have with proving the doubters wrong. ESPN’s Bill Simmons calls this the “Nobody Believed in Us” Theory.
In addition to the national criticism that Cutler faced, he also went through a very public break-up with
actress reality TV “star” Kristen Cavillari, during the course of which he was allegedly emotionally abused. While this gives Cutler a second reason to perform out of spite, it is very curious that Cavillari would supposedly be an abuser in this relationship. I would venture to say that the 32 starting NFL quarterback positions are among the 100 most sought after jobs for males in America. Within those 32, Cutler is slightly above average. He has worked hard–real hard–to get to where he is. Cavillari, meanwhile, doesn’t do and hasn’t done anything. She is famous for being stupid, self-unaware and famous. On a purely superficial level–one that is more than fair to evaluate her on–shouldn’t she have considered herself blessed to be engaged to someone with such considerably higher achievements?
Sometimes, “Nobody Believed in Us” is synthesized; this past week Aaron Rodgers tore into those in the media who were critical of his not organizing player workouts in the offseason. In reality, there were very few who didn’t believe in Rodgers and the Packers this season but they seized on the words of anyone who didn’t and used it for extra motivation to beat the Saints on Thursday. With Cutler, though, it is very real and has the chance to be fantastic for the Bears’ fortunes.
In the next two weeks, the Bears will face challenges on the road against the Saints and at Soldier Field versus the Packers that should be a pretty good litmus test of where they are as a football team. If they emerge from this stretch 2-1 and Cutler continues to productively harness the chip on his shoulder throughout the season, the Bears should be in pretty good shape to defy preseason expectations and at the very least contend for the playoffs.