For both supporters and detractors of Chicago Bears QB Jay Cutler, there was plenty to stir up the passions in his performance during the team’s victory Sunday over the Cleveland Browns.
On the positive side of the ledger, Cutler threw for 265 yards and three touchdowns, including a strike to Earl Bennett that gave the Bears the lead back in the fourth quarter.
On the negative side of things, Cutler also threw two interceptions, with one being picked off in the end zone and the other being intercepted over the top on an overthrow by Cutler. That one ended up being returned for a touchdown, only amplifying the message of those who wanted Josh McCown to remain the team’s starting quarterback moving forward.
Regardless of your inclination in regards to the Cutler vs. McCown question, there was one thing indisputable about his performance on Sunday: he was absolute dynamite on third down. Here’s Rich Campbell with the raw numbers:
Jay Cutler has a perfect 158.3 rating on third down. 11 of 12 passing for 152 yds, 2 TD, seven conversions. #Bears
— Rich Campbell (@Rich_Campbell) December 15, 2013
For a team that has struggled at times this season to convert on third down, getting that kind of performance out of Cutler was really a huge boost.
Several plays on third down really stood out for Cutler in this one. During the team’s first drive of the game, Cutler was flagged for delay of game after he spent too much time trying to get everybody lined up to counteract an aggressive Browns formation. He made up for his mistake when he finally did get the ball snapped, completing a 23-yard pass to TE Martellus Bennett for a first down for the Bears.
Later in the quarter, Cutler made two more nice throws in third down situations. The first was another pass to Bennett, who snared a 22 yard completion on a third-and-11 from the Bears’ 19 yard line, and the next came a short time later as Cutler found his favorite target Brandon Marshall open over the middle of the field for another first down.
Cutler’s biggest third down strikes were reserved for the fourth quarter, however. On the first, Cutler threw up a high floating jump ball, and despite the best efforts of two different Browns defenders, Alshon Jeffery was the one who came down with the catch, tying the game up at 24-24.
On the other one, Cutler used a great play call by Marc Trestman to his full advantage. With the defense focusing on Marshall and Jeffery, Cutler was able to find Earl Bennett wide open just across the goal line to give the Bears a lead that they would never relinquish.
Yes, there were still some areas of concern for Cutler in the game, as he threw an interception in the red zone for the third time this season (he didn’t throw any in the 2011 or 2012 seasons), but for the most part and especially on third down, Cutler did just about everything that the Bears asked him to do in this one.
Next week, Cutler will be facing a much stiffer challenge in going up against the Philadelphia Eagles, but if he can play in clutch situations like he did in this one, then Chip Kelly and company are going to have their hands full with the Bears’ dynamic offense in a crucial game with big playoff implications.