When the Denver Broncos got rid of Jay Cutler following the '08 season the perception was clear. They did not think that he was going to be an elite quarterback. Three years into his time in Chicago he's been good, but has yet to show that he has what it takes to be one of the best.
That is, until now.
Against the Indianapolis Colts in week one he looked like the kind of guy that fans and coaches dream about having on their team. After throwing an early interception that happened to get returned for a touchdown he proceeded to pick apart the Colts defense.
When all was said and done he had led the Bears to a 41-21 victory while throwing for 333 yards, two TDs, and the one interception. Elite type numbers? Absolutely! Does that mean he deserves to be named in the same breath as someone like Peyton Manning or Tom Brady? Not yet.
As good as his performance was he did have a lot of help along the way. Matt Forte is one of the top backs in the game. Cutler's connection with Brandon Marshall appears to have continued where it left off three years ago when he left Denver. The defense one of the better ones in football.
Some may attribute his success to the quality of the players around him, but just like he needs good players to help him look good they need a quality player at quarterback in order to make them look good. Then again, no one could do anything without the offensive line doing their job.
There have been maybe a handful of players in the history of the NFL that were studs even though they were surrounded by mediocrity (see Barry Sanders). Good players need other good players around them in order to be great.
Cutler finally has that now, but the reason he's ready to become elite is not because of the players around him. It's him; he's finally grown up.
When the Bears acquired Cutler it appeared to be a mistake. In his first game he was 7-36 for 277 yards, one TD, and four interceptions. He went on to throw 26 picks that year leading the Bears to a 7-9 record. His QB rating was all over the place; as low as 7.9 and as high as 122.0. He appeared erratic at times and unable to handle pressure.
Then came the next season when he threw ten fewer picks even though he was constantly on the run (sacked 52 times relative to 35 the year before). Through 11 games last season he was sacked 23 times and threw seven picks.
To sum it up, he made fewer mistakes and better overall decisions. He got better. Even though the yardage total didn't change much he did more with what he had. When he was healthy the team won games.
Without much for talent around him he has managed to improve each season since coming to Chicago. He's learned; he's improved; he's grown. Now that he has the talent around him as well, the world will be able to see if he's ready to graduate to elite status or if he's destined to be just another quarterback. He gets a good test tonight in Green Bay.