It was in defeat that Jay Cutler proved his mettle as a college player, the kind of NFL quarterback he could one day be. It was in Nashville where even the losses gained him the kind of respect he still can't quite get as a pro.
As the former Vanderbilt hero returns to Tennessee this weekend to play before fans who would still love to see him in Titan blue, it is not difficult to imagine that even an 11-1 record in his last 12 starts as Bears quarterback leaves Cutler wanting so much more.
It is perhaps unfair to call this, at age 29, a career crossroads for Cutler. He does have the Pro Bowl bid, if only one in 2008. And one trip to the playoffs, although that ended badly two years ago with one victory, one loss and a knee injury from which, on a psychic level at least, he may still be recovering.
Some who know him and Cutler himself will say he doesn't give a whit what outsiders think of him and that he doesn't necessarily feel he has anything to prove. So why is that so hard to believe?