DENVER • Jay Cutler revealed to Colorado football fans all the talent and all the promise that slipped away.
He was precise. He was patient. And he was triumphant. Cutler led Chicago to a 27-17 victory Sunday night over Denver.
Yes, this was an exhibition and meaningless on one level. But on another level, this game served as a crucial — and perhaps final — battle between Cutler and Broncos coach Josh McDaniels.
The two men were, for one night, again thrown together.
And there’s no doubt who won this episode of the feud that captivated a state. Cutler shrugged off jeering from fans at Invesco Field to shred the team he left behind.
A few minutes after the game, Cutler was asked if “any part” of him was happy to depart Denver as a winner.
“I think,” Cutler said with the slightest of smiles, “every part is happy.”
One play summed up Cutler’s night:
With a little more than 3 minutes left in the first half, Cutler dropped back, scanned the field and unloaded a fastball to tight end Greg Olsen for a 21-yard gain.
It was a glimpse of Cutler at his best. He showed his ultra-rapid release, his accuracy, his arm strength.
You can talk all you want about the deficiencies in Cutler’s attitude – and I have done plenty of talking on the subject – but there’s no doubt about his potential.
Cutler can throw a football. Cutler could become the NFL’s best quarterback. Cutler might make Broncos fans, and McDaniels, miserable for the next decade.
He led the Bears on a 98-yard touchdown drive, ending the march with another laser, this one a 6-yard pass to Matt Forte, in the dying seconds of the first half.
He spent the second half standing on the sideline, arms crossed, talking with his teammates. He wanted, he admitted, to play in the third quarter, but accepted coach Lovie Smith’s decision to let him rest. Smith made the right call. Cutler’s 98-yard journey through the Colorado night served as an ideal farewell.
The day started with strange feelings. Cutler walked into a different locker room, stood on a different side of the field. He was booed by fans who once cheered him.
But he delivered, despite all the pressure, a virtually flawless performance. He didn’t take the silly risks that sometimes marred his days in Denver.
For months, Cutler has inspired anger among the Bronco faithful. Some were mad at Cutler for his role in his squabble with McDaniels. Some were mad at McDaniels. Virtually everyone who cares about the Broncos was mad at somebody.
Sunday’s performance must have produced a different emotion in the hearts of those who love the Broncos.
Anger turned to sadness. For what had been lost. For what might have been.