Cutler should have been pulled sooner in favor of McCown

Editor’s note: This column is written as part of a point-counterpoint. The other column, against pulling Jay Cutler earlier, can be read here

I like Jay Cutler. A healthy Cutler is the Bears’ best option at quarterback.

I also like Marc Trestman. The first-year Bears head coach has implemented an exciting offense, and his players seem to get along with him. He hadn’t made any coaching gaffes that affected the outcomes of games. Until Sunday.

In a season full of close calls and nail-biting games, the Bears were locked in a division battle with the Detroit Lions, a contest that held massive playoff implications and determined the leader of the NFC North.

Surprisingly, Cutler started the game. His groin injury was supposed to keep him out at least four weeks, and he returned to action a week early after being cleared by team doctors. He was the anti-Derrick Rose, toughing it out ahead of schedule. But backup quarterback Josh McCown proved he was capable against Washington and Green Bay, so I was a little surprised when the Bears decided to risk Cutler’s long-term health by starting him Sunday.

After three quick strikes and a touchdown to Marshall, Cutler looked like his old self. He played solid in the first half aside from a late, red-zone interception. 

Things changed dramatically for Cutler in the second half, when it became painfully obvious that he was struggling with an injury. The Bears would later say it was an ankle injury, but it sure looked like he was favoring his groin. 

He couldn’t evade the pass rush. It almost looked like he would rather take shots from Detroit’s defensive line than sidestep the hits that were coming his way. Trestman kept sending Cutler out there, even into the fourth quarter when Cutler’s play had deteriorated into a one-legged circus act.

On third-and-11 with 5:41 left in the game, with an open field in front of him, Cutler threw a weak one-hopper to Jeffery. A healthy Cutler would have scrambled for the first down. 

Finally, Trestman inserted McCown for the last drive of the game, needing him to score a touchdown in a 21-13 game with two minutes left. And by God, he did it. Sure enough, he did everything Cutler couldn’t. He moved in the pocket, evaded the pass rush and led the Bears on a brilliant drive. Unfortunately, Trestman had waited too long. Too little, too late as the Bears couldn’t convert the two-point conversion to tie it, and the Lions won.

After the game, Trestman said he eventually made the switch because he wanted a more mobile quarterback to run the hurry-up offense with time running out. That’s great, but wouldn’t a mobile quarterback have helped earlier in the second half? This is where Trestman dropped the ball. He should have pulled Cutler and seen what the rest of us saw, that he wasn’t “getting it done” on one leg. Coaches are supposed to put their teams in the best position to win, and Trestman failed.

Trestman admitted Monday that he should have pulled Cutler sooner. I like when a coach admits he’s wrong, but this is a playoff race. In a season with only 16 games, these decisions need to be made when the game is on the line, not on Monday morning. 

Alex is a sophomore in AHS. He can be reached at [email protected]dailyillini.com. Follow him on Twitter @aroux94.