As he lay on the brand new turf at the brand new Levi’s Stadium on Sunday night, one old thought had to cross Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler’s mind:
Oh no, not again.
Down 17-0 and stuck near midfield with an offense that hadn’t shown any of the potency that it’s become known for, Cutler had just taken a huge shot to the chest from 49’ers defensive end Quinton Dial. The play had drawn a flag for roughing the passer, but Cutler was understandably slow to get up, and with a huge deficit, that may have looked like the nail in the coffin after a lost half of football.
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The moment was a perfect metaphor for what had happened the last time Cutler had suited up against the 49’ers in San Francisco. Back in his first season with the Bears in 2009, Cutler came into a Sunday night game and promptly threw five interceptions as the Bears lost 10-6 to San Francisco. It was one of the worst games of his career, and was the icing on the cake on what ended up being a disappointing season for the team.
On Sunday though, just as he has so many times in his Bears career however, Cutler got up, dusted himself off, and went to work. After Matt Forte was stopped for a short loss on first down with 56 seconds remaining in the half, Cutler fired a pass to Brandon Marshall at the San Francisco 26-yard line. With just 18 seconds remaining, Cutler then threw one of the best touch passes of his career, and Marshall’s one-handed touchdown grab not only got the Bears on the board, but it seemed to wake them up as well.
After the half, Cutler once again fired the ball with precision, confidence, and most importantly of all, effectiveness. After the hit from Dial, Cutler ended up 15-of-16 for 138 yards and four touchdowns, and the Bears went from being down 17-0 in a hostile road environment to victors in the span of just two quarters.
In fact, the comeback was not only impressive, but it was downright historic. The Bears have gone down by 16 or more points in 144 road games, and Sunday night was just the third time in those contests that they have actually come back to win. Think about that. The Bears, who were ridiculed all week for losing to the lowly Buffalo Bills (who, by the way, beat the Miami Dolphins and ran their record to 2-0 on Sunday), stormed back and picked up their biggest comeback victory on the road since they came from 20 down to beat the Arizona Cardinals in 2006.
While it would be easy to simply mention that the Bears made it to the Super Bowl that season and move on (they also won the Super Bowl the last time they beat the 49’ers on the road in 1985), that would distract from the facts at hand. No, the Bears and Cutler aren’t defined by the history that they made in this game. No, they aren’t now destined for greater glory because they proved a national television audience (and not to mention a lot of skeptical fans and writers) wrong. What this win proves is that the Bears are a team that not only has the tools to win games in the wide open NFC, but they also are a team that has the resiliency required to bounce back from adversity.
The Bears will face plenty more of that this season. They are a team that has Cutler at quarterback, after all. He is going to make throws that drive fans and coaches nuts, and he’s going to be dismissive about questions after the fact. He is never going to be the prototypical savior of a franchise, full of smiles and goodwill toward the media. He is always going to be that cocky kid who drives some fans nuts, but on nights like Sunday, you can’t help but be reminded of the resiliency and toughness that he brings to the table.
For all of his gifts and his physical attributes, that is the one thing that should never be underestimated, and hopefully won’t be again.