CHICAGO – Jay Cutler was flat on his back, unable to see much of anything. The Bears quarterback could do nothing but wait. And hope.
So much hung in the brisk Cleveland air early in the fourth quarter Sunday. The mood of a city. The needed backing within the locker room. Cutlers future.
Most important, a deep ball to Alshon Jeffery.
Maybe this moment, this pass, was a microcosm of Cutlers five seasons in Chicago. It was fluttering, so far from perfect, dangerously close to a maddening mistake yet somehow giving the Bears a chance at something big.
Cutler had so much impact on the play but so little control of how it finished. Which was with Jeffery making a remarkable 45-yard touchdown catch between two Browns defenders, tying the score at 24 and propelling the Bears to a 38-31 victory.
Not just any victory, either. This win energized and relieved Cutler, took a pair of anonymously sourced national reports suggesting significant discord within the locker room and pushed them aside.
Everyone knew the drastically negative turn things could have taken with a Cutler face plant and a Bears loss.
Instead, at a fork in the road, a rousing fourth-quarter comeback sent the narrative skipping down a cheerier path.
Every game from here on out is going to be like that, Cutler said. Last week was like that. This week was like that. Youve got all this stuff happening around the building. And inside, were thinking: Were in a playoff race right now. Were trying to win ballgames. So you have to lock all that stuff out.
Heated debate had stirred all last week regarding coach Marc Trestmans unwavering backing of Cutler as his go-to quarterback over Josh McCown.
The Bears felt the growing buzz encircling Halas Hall.
We knew the media reports. We knew things that were going on, left tackle Jermon Bushrod said Monday. We understood that, but we didnt focus on it. When youre in the locker room and you have the type of guys that we have, if youre focusing on things (outside) the team and what everybody else is saying, it takes away from what youre trying to get done in-house.
Cutler was so concerned about his in-house approval that he sought out several teammates midweek – including receiver Brandon Marshall, running back Matt Forte and center Roberto Garza – to make certain his return wasnt creating an unwanted commotion.
Trestman was asked Monday, even with his quarterback decision set in stone so long ago, whether he ever felt obligated to take the temperature of the locker room to ensure harmony remained.
I didnt take any temperature, he responded. I stayed resolute in that I felt it was in the best interest of the team from the beginning to make sure that everybody knew the direction we were going to go.
Still, deeper undertones will linger regarding the potential friction at Halas Hall.
Cutler acknowledged as much Monday, carefully addressing the ESPN and Fox reports that implied he remains a polarizing figure, even within the team. He said he felt well supported – by offensive teammates anyway. But he couldnt say how much the defense had his back.
No one approached me and said, Hey, out of respect to you and Tress, were not going to say anything, but we dont think you should play, Cutler said on his weekly radio show on WMVP-AM. You never know. Locker rooms are funny places.
So here the Bears stand, with two regular-season games remaining, a playoff push in progress and no other choice but to rally behind Cutler as their top gun – the way Trestman has all season.