LAKE FOREST – Brandon Marshall needs your help.
For the past several weeks, Marshall has been trying to come up with a new nickname for teammate Jay Cutler. A string of great fourth-quarter performances has provided a theme.
“I texted him over a few nicknames,” Marshall said, “like, ‘The Closer,’ or ‘Ace.’ ”
Big Play Jay? Cardiac Cutty?
Whatever the nickname, the implication is clear. Cutler is at his best late in games.
As the Bears (6-1) prepare for their next game Sunday against the Tennessee Titans (3-5), Cutler and his teammates on offense want to maintain their fourth-quarter excellence while improving upon their first-, second- and third-quarter struggles.
No quarterback in the NFL has enjoyed as much fourth-quarter success as Cutler this season. He leads the league with a 132.0 fourth-quarter passer rating, ahead of fellow top-10 finishers such as Peyton Manning (119.6), Aaron Rodgers (110.6), Eli Manning (103.5) and Tom Brady (98.8).
Cutler’s latest grand finale took place in Week 8 against the Carolina Panthers. He completed 12 of 14 passes for 106 yards and a touchdown in the fourth quarter to help the Bears overcome a double-digit deficit and extend their winning streak to five games.
“I think we’re just figuring it out in the fourth quarter,” Cutler said.
“[Our] defense is putting us in positions where we’re leading games and defenses are trying to get the ball back, [playing] a lot of single-high [coverage], which makes it a lot easier on the outside throwing the ball,” Cutler said. “We’ve hit some big plays out there. The way our defense is playing and carrying leads into the fourth quarter makes my job easier.”
Then again, Cutler has made his job tougher with a series of miserable starts.
In the first quarter, Cutler has completed 47.2 percent of his passes while throwing one touchdown and four interceptions. He has improved slightly in the second quarter (56.7 completion percentage, one touchdown, one interception) and slightly more in the third quarter (57.1 completion percentage, one touchdown, one interception).
In the fourth quarter, Cutler has completed 73.9 percent of his passes with six touchdowns and two interceptions. He has engineered 13 fourth-quarter comeback wins in 85 career starts, including six fourth-quarter comeback wins in 48 starts with the Bears.
“Jay is one of those guys where he has that clutch gene,” Marshall said. “You hear guys talking about it, and some believe it, some don’t, but Jay has it.”
If Cutler had his way, he and the Bears’ offense would avoid the drama.
Several tough defenses remain on the Bears’ schedule, including the Houston Texans, San Francisco 49ers, Minnesota Vikings, Green Bay Packers and Arizona Cardinals. Late comebacks will be hard to come by against those teams, which means that better starts will be crucial.
Cutler doesn’t need a catchy nickname to realize that.
“We’ve talked about it being a young offense, and now we’re kind of coming together,” Cutler said. “It takes us a little bit longer to make adjustments in games and get everything straightened out. It goes along with first down and just having successful plays on first down.
“We’ve got to get better early on in the first half, and that counts for the first parts of drives, too, first down and second down. We’re not going to make a living coming back in the fourth quarter and trying to convert third-and-longs.”