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Columnist
Will Cutler ever learn to protect the ball?
By Barry Rozner | Daily Herald Columnist
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Published: 12/14/2009 12:07 AM

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You can make all the excuses you want for Jay Cutler.

His line stinks, his receivers are clueless, and he has no running game.

His head coach is too this, and his coordinator is too that.

Fine. It's all true.

Except Cutler's no better than any of the above, and it's time the Bears came to terms with that.

He started the year bad, he's played bad most of the season, and he was bad again Sunday.

Maybe he won't be next year and probably not forever, but at least for 2009, he is what he is.

Beaten up physically and perhaps mentally, there are other words that apply, like careless and mistaken, but bad is what he's been in nearly every important situation when a play could have changed a game or a game could have changed the season.

"Normally, in games like this, there are a couple critical plays that determine who wins and who loses,'' said head coach Lovie Smith. "And we didn't get it done.''

On Sunday, in the 21-14 loss to Green Bay (9-4), the Bears (5-8) fell behind 13-0, but had come back to take the lead at 14-13 about five minutes into the third quarter, and it felt like they had some measure of control.

"After starting the way we did, we got ourselves back in position,'' Smith said. "We got momentum back on our side.''

The line was giving Cutler time, he had developed some chemistry with his receivers, and the defense had stopped the Packers on 5 consecutive possessions - with 2 turnovers - heading into the fourth quarter.

Still up a point, the Bears had a third-and-5 on their own 32 with 13:39 left in the game, when they lined up and Cutler signaled to Johnny Knox.

"Johnny did exactly what he was supposed to do,'' Cutler said. "We expected a blitz and Johnny ran the route.''

But as Knox flew down the sideline, Cutler just stood there and failed to see the cornerback blitzing from 25 yards away.

"We were trying a double move, trying to get over the top and go deep,'' said offensive coordinator Ron Turner. "We were anticipating man coverage, which we got.''

Obviously, the corner should have been picked up, but guard Frank Omiyale missed him. And when Cutler finally saw him, it was too late to step into the throw. He got rid of the ball just before getting hit. The ball was about 7 yards short as Knox slammed on the brakes.

"I have to throw it out of bounds or let it go sooner,'' Cutler said. "Johnny did it right.''

The pass sailed softly into the arms of safety Nick Collins, who took it 31 yards to the Bears' 11.

"We were able to hit the corner blitz,'' said Packers coach Mike McCarthy. "You can't play that any better than when the quarterback forces the throw.''

Only 52 seconds later, the Packers had a touchdown, the 2-pointer and a 21-14 lead.

"I'll have to look at the film and see (what happened),'' Turner said. "We had a deep ball called and obviously it was underthrown.''

Cutler threw 2 picks Sunday to give him a league-leading 22, and while only 1 of those was his fault, he threw 3 other passes that should have been intercepted.

Let us pause here to reiterate that most of what's happened this season is not Cutler's fault.

All together now, we know the Bears lack talent in so many areas that it's easier to say what they do have than what they don't.

His coaching staff has failed him at times, and he is surrounded by, at best, mediocrity.

But there is no excusing his complete disregard for protecting the football, understanding the situation, or recognizing field position.

No one doubts Cutler's physical ability, but maybe the reason he's never had a winning season is that he either doesn't know how to take care of the football, or he doesn't care.

It's one of the two and they're both frightening because he costs his team games.

That play Sunday was not one of desperation, not one where a linebacker was instantly in his face, not one where he had no choice but to throw it up into quadruple coverage on the final play of the game.

It was just bad. And it has happened, and happened, and happened again this season, and it sums up in one play what has been a sorry season for Cutler and the Bears.

So go ahead and blame Chris Williams, the bad timeouts, the penalties, or the defense for letting the Bears down early in the game.

But from the time the defense first stopped the Packers, to Cutler's disastrous throw, it was the best 29 minutes the Bears have played in three months.

They hadn't quit. They hadn't stopped trying to win. And they showed up again Sunday, doing everything they can to save their coach's job.

And then Cutler gave the game to the Packers.

At some point, be it next year or some other year, he's going to have to learn that giving the football to the other team is not OK.

Good team, bad team, mediocre team, Cutler won't be a winner until he figures that out.