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Cutler doesn't dodge criticism after bad outing

Michael Silver
Yahoo Sports
Cutler doesn't dodge criticism after bad outing
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Cutler dejectedly walks off the field after the last of his five INTs

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SAN FRANCISCO – Jay Cutler(notes) was talking about the worst game of his life, a 10-6 debacle of a defeat to the San Francisco 49ers on national television Thursday night, and when the Chicago Bears quarterback said the words "five interceptions," he nearly started to laugh.

Five interceptions – including one in the end zone on the final play of a game that, remarkably, the Bears were only 12 yards away from winning.

It was so brutal, it was almost funny.

"It was a tough game," Cutler had said while standing by his locker in the cleaned-out visitors' locker room at Candlestick Park. "Obviously, I didn't play as well as I would like. I threw five interceptions. It put the defense in a pretty tough hole."

In a reasonably extensive interview under the circumstances, Cutler figuratively did the same thing he's been doing on the field during his frustrating first season as the Bears' presumed savior: Stood tall amid less-than-ideal circumstances and took his punishment.

"Fire away," was the last thing he said to me before heading out to board the team bus and take the long flight back to Chicago, meaning, "Feel free to do your job and give me the public ripping I have coming."

And I will – after all, the guy threw five interceptions. This was a brutal defeat from the Bears' perspective; they're now 4-5 and facing a very tough road in its quest to make the playoffs.

On Thursday, against the equally struggling Niners (4-5), Cutler managed to top the four-interception nightmare he produced at Lambeau Field in a season-opening defeat to the Packers, taking over the league's interception lead in the process. He has thrown 17 picks in nine games, four more than the next-biggest offender, the Panthers' Jake Delhomme(notes).

Last year, his final season with the Denver Broncos, Cutler was a Pro Bowl teammate of Peyton Manning's.(notes)

This year? "I just hope I don't break Peyton's record," Cutler said, referring to the league-leading 28 interceptions Manning threw as a Colts rookie in 1998, the future Hall of Famer's highest-ever season total. "I'm on pace for it."

So yeah, Cutler deserves to be criticized, especially given the immense price (two first-round NFL draft picks, a third-rounder and quarterback Kyle Orton(notes)) the Bears paid to pry him (and a fifth-round pick) from the Broncos last April after a feud with incoming Denver coach Josh McDaniels caused the quarterback to demand a trade.

Yet after watching Thursday's game, and having observed the Bears all season, I have a hard time putting it all on the quarterback. And when I walked around the Bears' locker room asking players about the opening remarks in Cutler's postgame press conference – "I have to apologize to the defense" – they not only shrugged them off, they went out of their way to shoot them down.

"None of us feel that way," insisted tight end Greg Olsen(notes), whose miscommunication with Cutler on the final play led to the game-clinching pick by San Francisco strong safety Michael Lewis. "We're not really too concerned with what everybody writes about [our quarterback] when they don't really know what's going on out there. Stats are misleading. The blame falls on all of us."

Said wideout Devin Hester(notes), "It's not his fault. It's a team thing. If one falls, we all fall. We're not pointing the finger at anybody. Everybody has a part in this loss. It's not Jay's fault. The media's going to point fingers toward him; they don't know what they're talking about."

Two defensive players, linebacker Lance Briggs(notes) and defensive end Adewale Ogunleye(notes), expressed similar sentiments. And while I understand that players are programmed not to criticize teammates, lest they risk being labeled finger-pointers, the evidence suggests that Cutler is far from the Bears' only problem right now.

Defensively, Chicago clamped down on the 49ers, but the Bears had surrendered more than 40 points (to the Arizona Cardinals and Cincinnati Bengals) in two of Chicago's previous three games. That whole Monsters of the Midway revival that propelled the Bears to a Super Bowl three seasons ago? It's long gone – like the team's star middle linebacker, Brian Urlacher(notes), who is on injured reserve with a dislocated wrist and watched Thursday's game from the Bahamas.

Offensively, the Bears' line has been unduly chivalrous, metaphorically holding open the door for opposing pass rushers on a consistent basis. It's not quite as atrocious as the one in Green Bay, but Chicago's line is doing a lousy job of protecting the franchise's biggest investment.

It's also true that, after acquiring Cutler, the Bears made no effort to surround him with a proven stud at receiver, instead trotting out Hester (a converted cornerback), rookie speedster Johnny Knox(notes) and second-year possession man Earl Bennett(notes), one of Cutler's former Vanderbilt teammates. Olsen, expected to be a major force, has been relatively quiet save last week's three-touchdown effort against the Cardinals, the latter two scores occurring in garbage time.

The running game, the strength of last year's 9-7 team, has backslid in a big way. Halfback Matt Forte(notes), who ran for 1,238 yards as a rookie, has just 482 after Thursday night's performance (20 carries, 41 yards) which, to be fair, included eight catches for 120 yards. Forte's rushing average (3.4 yards per carry) is partly a product of the line's poor blocking, and clearly a sign that he's not hitting the holes that do exist as crisply or effectively as he did in '08.

Cutler wasn't going to come out and talk about any of his teammates' specific struggles, just as his teammates were careful not to pile on him after Thursday's game. Here's what he did say during our conversation: "Absolutely, it's tough. We're not running the ball as well as we'd like, and there are some tough situations we're all dealing with."

I asked Cutler if he thought he was pressing, trying to do too much.

"No," he said. "Well, looking back, I don't know. I'm frustrated with the interceptions, with the turnovers, especially in the red zone. I'm not playing up to my expectations. At the same time, I know I'm doing everything I can. I feel like I'm prepared for everyone I play. I'm watching a ton of film, and nothing out there is confusing me. I feel comfortable with every situation I'm confronted with. It's just not going my way right now."

Five times on Thursday, his passes went the 49ers' way. He threw 52 balls on the night, completing 29 for 307 yards. Here's a breakdown of the passes that got away, and what went wrong:

On third-and-goal from the one-yard-line with 9:51 left in the second quarter, Cutler play-faked to Forte, dropped back and fired a pass toward wideout Rashied Davis(notes) in the front of the end zone. He threw into double coverage, and San Francisco nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin(notes) picked it off. That one was on Cutler.

On Chicago's next drive, with the game still scoreless, Cutler dropped back on first-and-10 from the San Francisco 49 and threw to Hester on the right sideline. But Hester slipped at the 32 after the ball was delivered, and cornerback Tarell Brown(notes) jumped the route and had an easy pick. That was simply bad luck. Even worse, Brown's 51-yard return set up the game's lone touchdown, Frank Gore's(notes) 14-yard run on the next play.

Now trailing 7-3, Cutler got the ball on Chicago's first drive of the third quarter and, on third-and-4 from the San Francisco 43, threw a short crossing route to Hester. However, the wideout's path was blocked by umpire Bill Schuster, and he stopped to avoid running him over – and Cutler's pass went right to free safety Dashon Goldson(notes). More bad luck; also blame Hester for not anticipating and accounting for the umpire's presence.

With the score 7-6, the Bears faced third-and-7 from the Niners' 47 with 13:34 remaining in the game. Cutler had to bend down to field a poor shotgun snap into the grass from center Olin Kreutz(notes), and after settling and stepping up in the pocket to avoid pressure, he fired a pass over the middle to third-string tight end Kellen Davis(notes). San Francisco nickel safety Mark Roman(notes) jumped the route and ran through Davis to intercept it; Cutler complained to the officials that pass interference should have been called. I'm not sure – though contact was made with Davis, an argument could be made that Roman was playing the ball. "The safety ran over the tight end," was the way Cutler described it to me afterward.

Down 10-6 at his own 20 with 2:47 remaining, Cutler drove Chicago to the Niners' 12 with 13 seconds remaining. He threw over Olsen's head and out of the end zone on first down, and Bears offensive coordinator Ron Turner sent in an identical call, with two receivers lined up outside of Olsen on the left. Said Cutler: "We ran the same play twice. The second time Greg got jammed. I thought he would work back [toward me]. He worked away." In other words, blame the quarterback and the tight end for not being in synch, and if Cutler meant that he was right and Olsen was wrong, he wasn't going to say so publicly. Whatever the case, it looked brutal: Cutler stepped up to avoid pressure and looked like he might have had a running lane. Instead he fired the ball to Olsen in the back of the end zone, where three defenders had surrounded the tight end. Lewis, who was right in front of Olsen, made the easy interception to end the game.

Now, the Bears face a rigorous path to the playoffs, beginning next Sunday night in Chicago against the Eagles. After the brutal performance against the Packers, Cutler rebounded by leading a late game-winning drive against the Steelers, the first of three consecutive victories. Clearly, his teammates expect a similar bounce-back in the face of the impending criticism.

"That's the way the game works: When you lose, people talk bad about you, and when you win, they praise you," Briggs said. "I'll tell you what – he's gonna get praised next week. Watch."

Whatever you think of Cutler's culpability, don't expect him to get conservative.

"This is the worst slump I've been in," Cutler said shortly before leaving the stadium. "There were some things that happened out there. But hey, I'll be back throwing it again next game."

As he said it, he looked dead serious.

TAKE IT TO THE ATM

The Carolina Panthers will surprise the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday to keep hope alive in Charlotte. … In our main event: Tom Brady(notes) will lead the New England Patriots on a late touchdown drive to defeat Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium Sunday night. … Brady Quinn(notes) will have a big game – yeah, you read that right – in a spirited performance by the Cleveland Browns on Monday night, but the visiting Baltimore Ravens will outscore them.

PLEASE, BOSS, SEND ME TO …

San Diego, where the Chargers will try to continue their revival against a Philadelphia Eagles team coming off a wrenching defeat to the Dallas Cowboys. I look forward to taking it all in, talking to the principals, ordering copious amounts of killer Mexican food, going back to my hotel room and watching Manning and Brady battle it out on TV like the rest of America.

LIES, LIES, LIES

1. Buoyed by outlandish predictions from his namesakes on the Titans and Raiders, Australian rules footballer Chris Johnson predicted that the Carlton Football Club would ''join the NFL and finish ahead of the Lions.''

2. Encouraged by the positive response from its ad featuring Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez(notes) and his wife, a spokesparrot for PETA announced that the next NFL player featured in its ''Rather Go Naked Than Wear Fur'' campaign would be Bengals tackle Andre Smith(notes).

3. After proclaiming that there are ''remarkable similarities'' between the current Browns and the 2000 Patriots, Cleveland coach Eric Mangini added, "and this air I'm breathing eerily resembles nitrous oxide."

WORLD'S SIMPLEST POOL

The Falcons rolled over the Washington Redskins to send me roaring into Week 10, and I have a pretty good feeling about "going to 11" like a Spinal Tap amp. That's because I'm taking the Vikings to defeat the Lions in the Metrodome; no further explanation required. (Off limits: Patriots, Redskins, Ravens, Texans, Eagles, Packers, Colts, Bears, Falcons.)

MY BUDDIES' ANNOYING FANTASY ADVENTURE

Remember a couple of months ago when I advised UCSB women's basketball coach Lindsay Gottlieb to draft Chris Johnson, No. 2 overall and everyone (yes, including you) laughed at us? After watching Every Coach's Dream tear it up in San Francisco last Sunday to lead Harsh Reality to a 10-point victory over 014, Gottlieb has a message for all of the doubters: ''We were right. You were wrong. And I think CJ's best is yet to come.'' Johnson's 27-point outburst and a 16-point surprise from Julius Jones(notes) helped Harsh Reality (5-4) overcome the decision to play Vernon Davis(notes) over Gregg Olsen (three TD catches); the late scratch of Brian Westbrook(notes) after 014 had set its lineup didn't hurt, either.

This week Harsh Reality faces KAO (Ben Roethlisberger(notes), Ricky Williams(notes), Larry Fitzgerald(notes), Marques Colston(notes), John Carlson(notes)), which will have to get by without bye-week casualties Matt Schaub(notes) and Brandon Jacobs(notes). Gottlieb heeded my advice to cut the Packers' defense and go week-to-week (this week we've got the Titans vs. Buffalo) but overruled a change at kicker, opting to stick with the Packers' Mason Crosby(notes) (whom Y! Sports expert Brad Evans mocked her for drafting four rounds before the final pick) for at least another week. And with wideouts Terrell Owens and Antonio Bryant banged up and Shonn Greene in our doghouse after his negative-one-point effort the previous week, Jones and Bernard Berrian are our leading contenders for the flex spot (opposite backs Johnson and Marion Barber and receivers Chad Ochocinco and Greg Jennings). Oh, and we sat Olsen again, choosing Davis in advance of Thursday's head-to-head matchup. (Oops, bad decision: Davis had three catches for 16 yards, Olsen seven for 75.)

As for my buddy Malibu's Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, they're on the verge of going the way of a bird's head in Ozzy Osbourne's mouth. After a drubbing from You Are A Jerk, which got a breakout game from Michael Turner and big outings from Larry Fitzgerald, Mike Sims-Walker and Cutler, Sabbath is 2-7 and tied for last in its 12-team league, and Malibu harbors no illusions. ''We're playing out the string,'' he says. ''Realistically, once I saw that [No. 2 overall pick] LT didn't have it anymore, I knew it was a lost cause. At this point, there's only so much we can do.'' Given power of attorney, I did what I could to get ready for this week's matchup with "Divers" (I left out the first word of the team name; have I mentioned that this is a classy league?), whose lineup includes Matt Cassel, Vince Young, Ryan Grant, Williams, Roddy White, Sidney Rice, Nate Burleson, Kellen Winslow and the Cowboys' defense. I cut Bo Scaife and Pierre Garcon and picked up a pair of tight ends: Kevin Boss (who has a bye) and Brandon Pettigrew (who faces the Vikings); and I cut the Packers' defense and picked up the Dolphins (at home vs. Bucs). Tragically, my waiver request for Chris Chambers was rebuffed. This week we're hoping to ride another big game from Kurt Warner (wasted in last week's blowout) and to get good showings from Barber, Joe Flacco, Reggie Bush, Hines Ward, Berrian and Steve Breaston.

And now it's time for Evans to forgive us our trespasses. Thank you, sir, may I have another?

The Noise, who bet Silver back in August that Johnson would fail to reach 13 touchdowns on the season, could be feasting on fried crow instead of turkey come Christmas. After a volatile multi-week stretch, Captain Quick has wielded a sharpened sword, pushing Harsh Reality into playoff contention. His ridiculous 7.0 yards per carry mark over his past five contests likely won't shrink this week against a bumbling Bills defense. Since Week 5, the Bills have surrendered 5.3 yards per carry, 225.3 yards per game and five scores to rushers. Only the Crypt Keeper's festering roster of lifeless corpses (Oakland) has been more fantasy friendly. Coach Gottlieb's "best is yet to come" forecast will likely prove prophetic.

As for Shonn Greene(notes), Harsh Reality should seriously contemplate burying the hatchet. The Jets' matchup this week against malleable Jacksonville is very favorable. Julius Jones' 16-point explosion last week was expected. A morbidly obese sloth could rack 100 total yards against the loathsome Lions. However, the 'Hawks rusher won't bear fruit against the Cardinals. Only two rushers, DeAngelo Williams(notes) and Adrian Peterson, have surpassed the century mark at Arizona since Week 13 of 2007.

In regards to the maligned Malibu, the outlook is bleaker than Larry Johnson's(notes) chances of resuscitating his career. The addition of Pettigrew is a brainy move, especially against a Minnesota defense that refuses to defend tight ends, but the Holistic One (Ricky Williams) and "Sticky" Rice could prove devastating, matched against Tampa Bay and Detroit respectively. Too bad refunds aren't offered in fantasy.

OXYGEN-DEPRIVED THOUGHT FROM ABOVE

Isn't it comforting to know that the NFL is swift and vigilant when it comes to dispensing justice for coaches who jaw with opposing players (witness the $15,000 fine received by Falcons coach Mike Smith on Thursday? As for the Raiders' Tom Cable, who even by the most stretched logic imaginable acted aggressively toward Randy Hanson before and after an incident that left the now-exiled defensive assistant with a broken jaw and admitted to having struck his first wife – apparently there's no sense of urgency to act, or even to investigate in a proactive manner. (Hanson still has not been contacted or interviewed by anyone from the league.) I've made my thoughts clear on what went down with Smith and ex-Falcons cornerback DeAngelo Hall(notes), who wasn't fined for his role in the confrontation, and I'll just add this: NFL commissioner Roger Goodell just sent a bizarre message with this decision. After the game Hall boasted that he would call some of his ''friends'' (including Goodell and NFL VP of football operations Ray Anderson) and said that ''if Mike Smith(notes) wants to see me, he can definitely find me.'' And the player got what he wanted, while Smith got reprimanded. In my opinion, this is one situation in which the term ''accidental bumping'' might actually have been an appropriate conclusion.

LET'S DO SOME DON JULIO SILVER SHOTS FOR …

The late, great Pat Tillman – and all of the other brave veterans, living or deceased, who've sacrificed for our country. Thank you, sincerely, for your service.

DISPATCHES FROM THE LAIR OF THE BEAR

Cal's 31-14 defeat to Oregon State last Saturday, which knocked the Golden Bears out of the top 25 and essentially ended any dreams of a Rose Bowl run, wasn't the worst thing that happened at Memorial Stadium. It was this scary injury to star halfback Jahvid Best. Having learned more about concussions recently, I'm hoping Best rests up and starts focusing on what should be a bright NFL future. Here's this week's missive from Cal sophomore kicker David Seawright, who saw it all unfold on the sidelines.

Football can be terrifying.

During last Saturday's loss to Oregon State, I not only witnessed the most frightening injury of my football career, but also was a part of the ominous scene that followed.

In the second quarter, running back Jahvid Best scored a touchdown in his usual electrifying fashion. The play did not end, however as his dozens of other scoring scampers had. Instead of celebrating with his teammates, Jahvid was left motionless in the end zone.

Memorial Stadium has never been so silent. Cheers of adulation quickly wilted into worried whispers, which grew into encouraging chants of ''Jahvid! Jahvid! Jahvid!'' Even on the sideline the severity of the situation wasn't fully realized. Many of my teammates commented that ''he must just have the wind knocked out of him.'' When he continued to show no movement, that prognosis quickly changed.

Kneeling close to the end zone and watching paramedics attend to a fallen teammate brings new perspective to a game that millions watch every weekend. And it shouldn't take the scary fall of a high-profile player to open up questions about the safety of the game.

Coach Jeff Tedford has assured us, as well as the media, that Jahvid will not be pushed back into playing before he is ready. Every player (even us kickers) goes through extensive base line impact testing before ever suiting up in a Cal uniform. Like after all head injuries, his return will be predicated on results of testing and the opinions of medical professionals.

Jahvid's injury has garnered the attention one would expect such frightening footage would. Seeing replays of the incident online still leaves me and my teammates shaken.

That attention needs to lead to further awareness in regards to the dangers of football, the long lasting effects of head injuries, and the lifelong impact such trauma can cause.

As terrifying as the game can be to watch, it can be even more terrifying to play. Saturday provided a prime example of the dangers of the game. This terror, however, needs to lead to developments that will keep players healthy and safe well beyond their collegiate football career.

YAHOO! SEARCH WORDS OF THE WEEK

Bodies hit the floor Lambert

ROLLIN' WITH THE ROYALS

The Reading Football Club remained winless in eight FLC games at Madejski Stadium this season, managing only a 1-1 tie with lowly Ipswich Town – one of the two teams below the Royals in the Football League Championship table – to slip back into the relegation zone. An early goal by Jon Stead off a long throw-in by David Wright put the Tractorboys ahead, and Reading equalized two minutes after the break when Simon Church deflected a ball from teammate Glyfi Sigurdsson into the net from close range. The Royals had lots of chances to win thereafter but couldn't finish, and now they must wait until a week from Saturday night for their next chance to secure a home win, with fifth-place Blackpool set to visit.

LYRIC-ALTERED SONG DEDICATION OF THE WEEK

Earlier this month, Browns halfback Jamal Lewis(notes) said he planned to retire after this season, and the team's 1-7 record isn't the only source of his misery. On Thursday Lewis took Mangini to task for overworking his players, a day after saying he'd consider himself "a Raven, of course" after his 10-year career is complete. As Lewis complained, "I'm so tired of it," I could've sworn I heard The Edge hammering away in the background. Here's an expanded version of Lewis' perspective, to the tune of the U2 classic "Sunday Bloody Sunday."

I can't believe the news today
HR employee came
Led our GM away

How long
How long must we sing this song?
How long, how long
Monday night
We'll get booed on Monday night

Water bottles costing dudes 2 G's
Dawg Pound guys are meeting with Randy
A quarterbackin' cattle call
Incentives gone so
Now the backup will get the ball

Sunday, Bloody Sunday
Sunday, Bloody Sunday
Sunday, Bloody Sunday

And the turmoil's just begun
Seven games lost, will we win more than one?
The trench is dug within our hearts
And now Mike Holmgren's gonna tear this thing apart

Sunday, Bloody Sunday
Sunday, Bloody Sunday

How long
How long must we sing this song?
How long, how long
Monday night
We'll get booed on Monday night
That's right

Sunday, Bloody Sunday
Sunday, Bloody Sunday

Wipe the tears from your eyes
Wipe your tears away
Oh, wipe your tears away
Oh, wipe your tears away
(Sunday, Bloody Sunday)
Oh, pay Josh Cribbs? No way
(Sunday, Bloody Sunday)

Sunday, Bloody Sunday (Sunday, Bloody Sunday) Sunday, Bloody Sunday (Sunday, Bloody Sunday)

And it's true we are immune
Weekend at Bernie's – it's Randy's reality
Monday night millions will see
How much we stink and laugh at Mangini

(Sunday, Bloody Sunday)

This franchise is a total wreck
Dare say our fans miss Belichick
Oh

Sunday Bloody Sunday
Sunday Bloody Sunday

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