Between a Presidential election and the NFL season, we are in the golden season of The Narrative – the commonly accepted “wisdom” that allows partisans, pundits, columnists and fans to stop spending all that time thinking and get back to affirming their own beliefs. I hate few things more than The Narrative – it represents the lowest common denominator of analysis. Actually, strike that – it is, in reality, the opposite of analysis – non-analysis, if you will. Instead of observing events and trying to determine why they happened and what they mean, The Narrative allows you to shoehorn pretty much anything into what you already have decided to believe.
You could write for days on how this works in political discussion, but since we have such a perfect litmus test for this here in Chicago, I’m going to use football. We could debate just how good of a quarterback Jay Cutler is (earlier this season, someone emailed Bill Simmons a “blind test” comparison of Cutler and….Brian Griese), but what seems to me beyond debate is that he is at least the best quarterback the Bears have had since Jim McMahon and very likely the best they have had in the modern era. Were it not for a knee injury, I believe he would have already taken the Bears to a Super Bowl. Were it not for a broken thumb, I believe the Bears would be in the midst of a run to the playoffs as an NFC contender for the third straight season. Despite these things, (and even more jarringly, despite the competition) there are whole hosts of people that are convinced that Cutler is the wrong quarterback for the Bears; that they will never get over the hump and win a championship with him – NOT because he holds on to the ball too long or makes rash decisions that result in turnovers, mind you, but because of the faces he makes and the things he does on the sideline. These are people that want to play a shell game with their own subjective opinions and actual analysis. These are the people that fail The Cutler Test.
Listen – you want to complain about the times Cutler attempts to force a ball into double or triple coverage? Or misreads a blitz? Or takes a sack when he could’ve thrown the ball away? I’m all ears, and I’ll likely nod in agreement. But you lose me when you start trying to connect those things to his on (or off)-field mannerisms, vague notions of “leadership” or someone “getting it.” Just admit you’re not in the mood for thinking and you would rather emote. Thinking is hard. Feeling is easy. Own it.
Here’s a site called tradejaycutler.com. You can tell they’re smart guys because they have a QB Tracker with Cutler and Kyle Orton on their front page. Odd that it stops in 2010, though. I can’t tell if that’s due to poor site maintenance or the fact that the only action Orton has seen in 2012 was in a Bears-Cowboys game that was out of reach in the fourth quarter largely due to….Jay Cutler. But I digress:
Jay Cutler is a leader in need of leadership skills, and last night put an exclamation on that point. When the Bears needed calm stability, Cutler was yelling at his center for not snapping the ball. When the Bears needed poise in the pocket, Cutler was shoving his left tackle. When the Bears needed their star receiver to get a touch or two, nary a simple pass was called. Make no mistake: the line is much to blame, Mike Tice is much to blame, a couple drops by receivers are to blame, but none of them are considered the field leader. Jay Cutler was granted one of those big “C” patches on his jersey for a reason – he is considered the captain of the offense. It’s time to start acting like it.
You’re not going to believe this, but no posts on that site since the day after the Green Bay loss! A more cynical man would say that’s because these intellectually lazy people use non-quantifiable nonsense about being a “field leader” and “those big ‘C’ patches” as a catch-all for their anger when things go wrong. Here’s Dan Pompei, dropping quotes from (seriously) Napoleon, Aristotle and Sun Tzu to show that Jay Cutler is out of line:
Yelling and cussing out people who are on your side isn’t leading. It’s allowing your frustration to spill over onto others.
Problems should be addressed respectfully on the sideline. Or in the locker room at halftime. Or on the practice field on Wednesday.
That’s how good leaders do it.
Putting a “C” on Cutler’s jersey doesn’t make him a leader anymore than putting an S on his chest would make him fly. Leaders must be willing to follow.
Really? You think this guy is cussing? How about him? I guess they’re not leaders, then. I could honestly go on forever with this (you’ll be relieved to know that the Santa Fe New Mexican weighed in; I’ll let you guess as to how), but you get the idea. Let’s end with vaunted internet troll Gregg Doyel, who cements his narrative bona fides by not just running down Cutler but also by praising Tim Tebow. But then he doubles back, outing himself as preferring to lazily digest the narrative because it makes him feel better (bold mine):
Leadership is enormous at quarterback. Look at Tim Tebow, for God’s sake. He can’t throw like Cutler, can’t read defenses, probably isn’t even as fast on his feet. By all accounts, Tebow doesn’t have the skill set to play quarterback in the NFL — but he has that indefinable quality that quarterbacks have to have. Don’t ask me what it is, but I saw it last season in Denver, where Tebow won seven of eight starts, then a playoff game. How? The defense was good, sure, but the Broncos were playing over their heads, all over the place, in large part because they were following Tebow. Because they liked him, trusted him, believed in him.
The Bears don’t like Cutler. Don’t trust him. Don’t believe in him.
Or maybe I’m wrong about all of that, biased because I don’t like Cutler, don’t trust him, don’t believe in him. Maybe as I look at Cutler, look at his whiny body language and the disdainful way he talks to others, I refuse to believe teammates could like him, trust him, believe in him.
Both old and new Bears would suggest that Doyel is as wrong as he says he might be. But that’s all neither here nor there. Looking at Cutler’s career results suggest that his personality (presumably a constant) has no bearing on either his game-to-game performance (prone to peaks and valleys) or his team’s ability to win games (his Bears teams have fared better than his Broncos teams – did his attitude change?). Brett Favre was also prone to erratic games and cringe-worthy interceptions, but because everyone wants to see him as a gunslinging warrior jean-wearer, that’s what he gets to be. Tony Romo – also prone to the occasional stink bomb – was visibly frustrated in the Cowboys’ loss to the Bears, but he’s a can-do kid from an FCS school living the NFL dream, so he gets a free pass.
Perhaps it’s a bit of a perfect storm that Cutler plays here. Chicagoans seem to be some of the worst offenders of lazily applying the narrative that simply reinforces the way they have already decided they want to feel, regardless of facts (how else to explain the twin pillars of idiocy that are “Bear weather” and “Bear football”?). After all, it gets more obvious with each passing year that Michael Jordan was an exponentially greater jerk than Jay Cutler could ever hope to be. If you think bumping a lineman is bad, you’d really get the vapors if you knew how Jordan attempted to psychologically destroy his own teammates. But you actually do know that – you just file that under the “greatest competitor EVAR” tab and carry on, right? That’s the narrative we use to excuse Jordan being a jerk, but really, you shouldn’t need that one, either. Who. Cares. Provided you’re watching sports for the excitement and the competition (and not some weird self-validation), it really doesn’t matter whether someone mopes at the wrong time or fist pumps at the right one. The results are what matter – try evaluating those instead. Otherwise,