DAVIE, Fla. -- In all likelihood, these are probably the final eight games of quarterback Jay Cutler’s NFL career.
The 34-year-old veteran, who is playing in his 12th season, was coaxed out of retirement by Miami Dolphins coach Adam Gase this summer to replace injured quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Before that, Cutler was viewed as overpaid, underachieving, at times toxic and with few significant wins in his career with the Chicago Bears and Denver Broncos.
Cutler has a chance to rewrite his final narrative. It starts tonight against the Carolina Panthers (6-3) in a prime-time game on ESPN's Monday Night Football.
The 4-4 Dolphins are one hot streak in November and December away from making the postseason. If Cutler leads Miami to the playoffs for its second straight season, it would provide the mercurial quarterback an opportunity to go out on a high note.
“Everything is in front of us,” said Cutler, who thought he was going into the television booth until signing a one-year, $10 million contract in August. “We kind of control what our future is. I think this group does a good job of staying focused on one week at a time. This week is Carolina.”
This is the time of year when the good teams -- and quarterbacks -- begin to separate themselves from the rest of the pack.
Although Miami’s offense overall has struggled, Cutler’s statistics are solid at the midpoint of the season. He has completed 66.2 percent of his passes for 1,306 yards, 10 touchdowns and five interceptions. Cutler also has an 87.4 passer rating -- his highest since 2015, which is the last time he played under Gase while with the Bears. Yet, there is still plenty of room for growth in these final eight games.
Cutler missed one game due to broken ribs and returned last week with his best performance of the season. He threw for 311 yards and three touchdowns in a 27-24 loss to the Oakland Raiders. Both were season highs and perhaps that momentum will carry over into the second half of the season.
“That was really what I've been waiting for; I felt like guys were in a good flow,” Gase said of the offense. “I loved the energy that we had. We made mistakes, but we were giving ourselves a chance.”
The Dolphins’ second-half schedule won’t be easy. Six of Miami’s eight opponents have winning records, including a pair of remaining division games against the reigning Super Bowl champion New England Patriots.
If Cutler is able to play well and lead Miami to the playoffs under those circumstances, it will be one of the top accomplishments of his career in what is likely his final season.
“The good teams, they figure it out,” Cutler said. “They start getting better. They start executing really well and they find ways to win games, no matter what it takes. I think that’s the difference in November, December. If you want to be in it at the end, this is when you have to figure out how to play your best football.”