AS WE BEGIN the 19th season of the Flem File, I must confess that after all this time, I've only uncovered one undisputed, universal truth when it comes to understanding the NFL.
Nothing is ever Jay Cutler's fault.
You might think, in a season opener at home against the bottom-feeding Bills, that a newly minted, $126 million, franchise quarterback with a single career playoff win who has had an entire franchise ripped apart and rebuilt to his exact specifications would, maybe, be to blame for throwing two picks that led to 10 easy points for Buffalo in a shocking 23-20 overtime loss.
And, like I said, you'd be wrong.
Nothing is ever Blameless Jay's fault.
You might think it's too early to panic in Chicago. (You might also think this column is starting to sound a lot like the cinder-block balcony scene in "Old School.") But the Bears play five of their next seven on the road, including this week in San Francisco, where, in his latest visit, Cutler threw five picks and zero touchdowns, though as I said, none of that was even remotely close to being his fault.
This was supposed to be the year everything was in place for Cutler to reach his full potential and take the Bears on another deep run in the playoffs. Finally, we were told, after almost a decade in the NFL -- roughly the same time it took to build the Panama Canal -- Cutler was, at long last, ready to step up and become a franchise quarterback.
Here's the thing, though: Real franchise quarterbacks thrive under pressure and adversity by always accepting responsibility, never offering excuses and finding ways to elevate those around them to a level of performance they could never achieve on their own.
Cutler has a nearly flawless, smooth and compact throwing motion and a crazy once-in-a-lifetime cannon of an arm. It is so remarkable, in fact, that with it Cutler has managed to seduce even the wise and hardened fan base of Chicago for more than six years. But we all know playing quarterback in the NFL is about so much more than passing the ball and then screaming at your subordinates when things go poorly.
Which means, given his track record of leadership, the only franchise Cutler should be running is a Denny's.
He needs perfect coaching? After Bountygate (yet another shining example of Roger Goodell's leadership and sliding, slippery scale of morality), Drew Brees lost his offensive playcaller, best friend and head coach for an entire season, and he still threw for 5,177 yards and 43 touchdowns. Cutler needs perfect protection? Aaron Rodgers won a Super Bowl with a dozen or so starters on injured reserve. Cutler needs perfect pass-catchers? There have been long stretches during Tom Brady's Hall of Fame career when his receiving corps looked like something Bill Belichick picked up on the Island of Misfit Toys. Cutler needs a better defense? Eli Manning won a Super Bowl in 2011 with the sixth-worst defense in the league.
So I was racking my brain trying to think of a name for whatever it is that afflicts Cutler when I realized the Bears have given him everything he has ever asked for, and yet somehow Mr. Grumpypants still isn't satisfied or comfortable or the least bit grateful.
Just look at the laundry list of coaches and offensive coordinators he's burned through over the years: Mike Shanahan was too old school; Josh McDaniels was too new school; Ron Turner was too collegial; Mike Martz too complicated; Mike Tice was not complicated enough; Lovie Smith was too defensive-minded. But Marc Trestman, oh, Marc Trestman was gonna be juuuuust right.
And then it hit me.
Jay Cutler has GLD, Goldilocks Disorder.
The Bears (get it?) and their fans can continue to provide all the expensive, soft, cushiony support they can muster for Cutler.
It will never, ever be juuuuust right with this guy.
Did you hear the Colts' Andrew Luck on Sunday after he botched a QB sneak against the Broncos? Here's a guy with less than one-third the experience of Cutler and about one-third the talent around him, with every reason to deflect, make excuses and point fingers.
Instead, he stood at the podium, looked the world in the eye and put it all on himself. "Bad, bad decision, and it cost us," Luck said. "If I take a timeout, change the play, whatever it is. Stupid decision, won't make it again. Learn from it and keep trucking along and have a good week of practice coming up."
Now, compare that to Cutler over the years, deep in the throes of GLD.
ONCE UPON A TIME in Denver he needed to win one of his final three games of the 2008 season to make the playoffs. Cutler's passer rating during that stretch never went above 74.9, but it wasn't his fault. He needed a team with a better defense. So the Bears gave up two No. 1 picks to put him with Smith. Cutler threw an NFL-high 26 picks in 2009, and the Bears finished 7-9.
ONCE UPON A TIME, Cutler needed better targets.
ONCE UPON A TIME, protection was too soft.
So the Bears let him scream at his linemen during games, and they got him Jordan Mills and Jermon Bushrod, and in 2013 they started the same five offensive linemen in all 16 games. Cutler suffered his fewest sacks since 2008, and the Bears still finished 8-8.
ONCE UPON A TIME, Cutler needed a run game to keep defenses honest.
So the Bears opened their wallets and locked up Matt Forte.
ONCE UPON A TIME, Cutler needed the comfort and security of a long-term contract. Here's how the negotiations probably went: $100 million is too low, $150 million is too high, but $126 million feels juuuuust right.
ONCE UPON A TIME, Cutler needed an offensive-minded head coach.
So Smith was fired after a Super Bowl and a 10-win season (there were other issues besides the QB, of course), and Trestman, the QB whisperer, was hired. But things still didn't feel juuuuust right with Jay.
ONCE UPON A TIME, after 3,310 passes thrown as a pro, Cutler would be perfect -- just as soon as he got more time to acclimate to Trestman's new scheme.
After all that, in the 2014 season opener, what does Blameless Jay do?
On third-and-1, late in the game, when anything other than an interception probably seals the win for the Bears, he throws across his body, on the run, trying to force the ball in to Bennett, and instead, with the game on the line, Cutler gets picked off by a defensive tackle.
Immediately afterward, it was obvious, at least to Blameless Jay and his followers, exactly who was at fault: Trestman, of course, for not calling a run play. The coach also seems to be suffering from GLD after falling back on the "three-phases" cliché after the shocking loss. And let's not forget the impossibly unfair media for daring to expect a $126 million, nine-year, franchise quarterback on a playoff-caliber roster to be able to, you know, win a game at crunch time by, um, falling down.
On Monday, at least, Cutler seemed to finally shake his GLD and his Blameless Jay persona.
"That last interception was a tough one. I've got to throw the ball away or run," he said during "The Jay Cutler Show" on ESPN 1000 in Chicago. "Third down, fourth down, no matter what the situation is, I've got to do something better."
That almost sounded like Cutler actually taking responsibility for something. Maybe his GLD is finally in remission.
It's a start, I suppose. A glimmer of hope.
But with the 49ers and 0-2 looming, a season that started as a Bears fairy tale now seems to have little chance of ending happily ever after.