There’s been nothing magical about Jay Cutler.
It was a major stretch from the very start to think that he might be, yet with Ryan Tannehill out for the season and Adam Gase’s offense in need of a capable relief driver, what choice was there but to hope?
Cutler had been around. He knew Gase’s offense from their time together in Chicago a few years ago. It was enough of a connection, at the very least, to coax the quarterback out of retirement, and with the team’s offer of a $10 million contract fully guaranteed to prove that the Dolphins weren’t kidding around about going to the playoffs again.
Somehow, though, Miami finds itself at 5-7, well down the list of playoff dreamers, and here are the only realistic expectations that remain when it comes to playing Cutler over David Fales or any other bad option against New England on Monday night.
I expect that Cutler will get the ball out faster, or at least spike it at the feet of oncoming pass rushers, than Matt Moore did against New England a few weeks ago. Moore took seven sacks against the Patriots and sustained a foot injury that has prevented him from practicing and playing since.
I expect that Cutler will hit a few big passes, like he did last week with touchdown throws to Julius Thomas and Kenny Stills in a win against the Denver Broncos, and that he will turn the ball over a couple of times, too. In three career games against New England, all lopsided losses, he has thrown a total of five picks.
I expect that Cutler will be fairly mediocre, in this game and in the three that follow, and that the only thing that ultimately proves to be magic about him is the disappearing act that’s coming at season’s end.
This is not piling on. It’s a realistic assessment of where the bar is set for Cutler these days, and he’ll be likely to give similar assessments for other quarterbacks from his spot in the Fox Sports analyst booth in 2018.
These, of course, weren’t the 1972 Dolphins, a disciplined collection of hardened pros who were fresh from a Super Bowl appearance and convinced that there would be more. Cutler might have shined in a situation like that, as Earl Morrall did that year in Bob Griese’s absence.
Cutler, though, should have been a better bet to lead the Dolphins than most of the other replacement quarterbacks who constantly bounce around the league. Instead, Case Keenum is tearing it up in Minnesota on a one-year contract of his own and Cutler is putting up the same kind of numbers that Jacoby Brissett is in Indianapolis.
So it hasn’t been a home run. The real disappointment is that Dolphins fans won’t even look back on this partnership as a ground-rule double.
Cutler might have gotten there with a level of production matching his 2015 season in Chicago – 21 touchdowns, 11 interceptions and a 92.3 quarterback rating. Miami’s offensive line hasn’t allowed for as many deep throws, however, and Cutler, with 11 interceptions in 10 starts, has sabotaged too many promising drives. And as for the hurry-up offense that Gase has always wanted, scratch that, too. For all the pre-snap instincts that Cutler brought to the job, Miami bleeds the play clock dry more often than not.
Bottom line, it would have been a major surprise if Cutler had gotten the Dolphins to the playoffs, even though Gase brought a high amount of confidence to that mission in September. What they’ll wind up with here is closer to what they got in Chicago, a 6-10 finish and a friendship that will outlast frustrations.
“I feel OK,” Cutler said Thursday when asked how his 34-year-old body is holding up after another season of pounding and a game missed under the concussion protocol. “I think the offensive line has done a good job and Adam has done a good job of calling plays and trying as much as he can to keep the quarterbacks in there.”
That’s a pretty high comfort level, at least personally, when the quarterback casually calls the head coach by his first name.
Competitively, there have been better and faster fits for the Dolphins. Take Chad Pennington, a training-camp addition in 2008, the year of Miami’s last AFC East title. Recently cut by the New York Jets, he came to Miami, broke Dan Marino’s single-season franchise record for completion percentage and finished a distant second to Peyton Manning in the league MVP voting.
That Dolphins team was better than this one. Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams in the backfield instead of Kenyan Drake, with a total of three NFL starts, and a banged-up Damien Williams. A stronger defensive unit, too, No. 9 in the league in yards allowed.
Can’t measure Cutler any other time but today, however. He has brought experience to Cutler’s offense but not excellence. He has not stretched the field, with no completion longer than 36 yards. He has failed to do more than any competent quarterback would do under these circumstances.
Gase needed more than that to make his offense go. This is basically what Chad Henne and Moore gave the Dolphins in 2011, a 6-10 season you’ve probably forgotten by now.
We’ll forget this 2017 Dolphins season, too, but not soon enough.