Daily Herald
Verdict's still out on Cutler
By Mike Imrem | Daily Herald Columnist
Published: 8/15/2009 11:16 PM

An NFL team's first preseason game is as inconclusive as a prosecutor's opening argument.

The first quarter of that game is like his opening vowel.

Yet right now those 15 minutes are all we have to go on concerning Bears quarterback/face of the franchise/savior Jay Cutler, who played three offensive series in Saturday night's loss at Buffalo.

So let's go on that small sample anyway and review Cutler's performance: Guilty? Innocent? Hung jury? Dismissal?

Most likely the best legal course would be to ask for a continuance. As Cutler said, "Over the next couple of weeks we'll start picking it up."

If there was a negative at Buffalo it was that Cutler wasn't as impressive as Bills starting quarterback Trent Edwards, who completed all 10 of his passes.

If there was a positive it was that Cutler wasn't as unimpressive as Bears' predecessor Kyle Orton, who threw 3 interceptions in his Broncos' debut Friday night.

So the preliminary verdict - as if there were such a thing - is that Cutler was between a perfect 10 and an ugly 3.

Cutler's uniform No. 6 is leading the NFL in sales, which is odd considering that one pro football Web site doesn't rank him among the league's top eight quarterbacks.

Football fans clearly are filling their closets with speculation, just as the Bears are filling their quarterback abyss with promise.

Refreshingly, though, for a change the Bears have more questions than quarterback and not many more answers than Cutler.

Q. How can this team have an effective passing game with undistinguished wide receivers?

A. Jay Cutler.

Q. Why will the Bears' pass rush be better this year?

A. Jay Cutler.

Q. Who will Obama get to reform health care?

A. Jay Cutler.

If the guy didn't wow anybody at quarterback against the Bills, it might have been because he had to stick too many throwing fingers into too many other holes.

That said, no fan wearing a Cutler jersey need feel compelled to turn it upside down and pretend it's Jim McMahon's No. 9.

Not yet, that is.

Cutler completed half of his 10 pass attempts against the Bills for 64 yards and 1 interception.

"We'll build from here," head coach Lovie Smith said of the Bears' offense.

Cutler went to the sideline at the start of the second quarter, put on a headset and for all we know listened to Brooks and Dunn's greatest hits.

Six of Cutler's passes were intended for Devin Hester, and they looked at times like Siegfried trying to throw a Tiger to Roy by the tail.

But this indeed was the first preseason game and the Bears' best incumbent pass receivers - tight end Greg Olsen and running back Matt Forte - didn't play.

Meanwhile, Cutler didn't play the last three quarters because the Bears' inexperience at backup QB means if the starter is lost to injury, so is the regular season.

How ironic considering all the years that Bears fans hoped the starting quarterback would pull a hamstring.

Fortunately for the Bears, Jay Cutler is still healthy and the jury will reconvene next Saturday night in Soldier Field.

mimrem@dailyherald.com