“Out here a man settles his own problems.” - John Wayne, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance
The bleaching sun pours down on a wagon rutted red dirt road. At this time of day the crudely framed porches of the saloon and general store offer the only shade here in the center of town. Shadowy silhouettes of nervous patrons peek out of the storefront windows at the tense scene unfolding in the empty street. There will be trouble. Everyone knows it. They can feel it in their churning stomachs. The sheriff? He’s useless. He lost the respect of even the law abiding citizens after a while. His deputies? Their shaky voices couldn’t run a stray dog out of town. The old timers who used to croon around the card table about the older, wilder days now only argue about which day the law left town. It takes a special kind a man to make it in this kind of town.
Here we are as two grizzled gunslingers approach the center of town from opposite ends. The clean cut man treading from the South bears a silver star and a business man’s demeanor. He doesn’t flinch at the sight of the man in black riding in from the North with his pearl handled gold revolver flickering for all to see. Both men show the scars of battles lost and their eyes say they aren’t afraid to receive another.
In other words: This ain’t your daddy, Roger Goodell’s NFL. Heck this isn’t Tom Brady’s NFL. If you want to play quarterback in this time of
crisis transition, you better have your wood screws, because Joe Mays is going to blow your ear right off. It’s funny how the lack of authority present can reach inside the internal clocks inside every pass rusher’s head and just nudge that second hand backwards a few ticks. Oh you let go of that pass before I put my facemask into your throat? My mistake. Suddenly the 5 yard rule for CBs has become the 15 yard rule, and last night it sure looked like the WRs claimed the endzone. Cheap shots? More like bargain shots when there’s a 75% chance you won’t get flagged. So what better time for our two gunslingers to collide here on Main Street? Steven King himself couldn’t write it up any better with the Dark Tower in Manhattan getting more powerful by the day.
They make an odd pair, Romo and Cutler. For two players that most fans would likely gloop into the same mold they don’t have much in common. Romo is the perpetual underdog whose cape everyone loves to tug. Undrafted out of a directional school in the hinterlands of the North, he was a largely unheralded free agent signing that fought his way tooth and nail from the bottom of the roster to franchise quarterback status, leaving a slew of records in his wake. By the time he retires, likely as a Cowboy, he’ll either be remembered among the franchise’s greats or as the greatest who never won the big one. His tools of the trade are mostly intangible, though his quick release is an oft overlooked thing of beauty if you ask this guy I know with two thumbs and an opinion. He works hard. He’s got a great mentality. He is driven to be better everyday. He has a great feel for pressure that he can’t see. He’s tough. (maybe the toughest) Tony’s faults however are well known and openly ridiculed. He makes poor decisions at times. He tries to do too much when he doesn’t have to and turns the ball over. (see “empty hand shovel pass fumble”) He’s labled a choke artist and will be until he hoists the Lombardi.
Jay Cutler? He’s the hired gun. Drafted 11th overall out of Vandy, he was a highly touted prospect and the would be savior of the Denver franchise. The reason he’s not in Denver anymore probably comes down to the fact that he has the attitude to match. I remember hearing that Cutler had been traded to the Bears and thinking to myself, “Wow. What has to happen for you to ship a franchise QB out of town on a midnight train?” Well in hindsight you could say now that it might have been poor judgement by “all my eggs in one basket” former coach Josh McDaniels. Whatever the case was, here he comes riding into town with that laser/rocket/railgun of a golden arm in his holster. There isn’t a throw in football that he can’t make and he knows it. That’s, as they say, how he eats. As is want to be the case with those who are on the verge of going from good to great, his confidence in his strong arm is also what can at times bring him down. He comes to Dallas with 3 TDs and 6 picks this season with his Bears sporting a 2-1 record. (4 picks in their 1 loss) The trite scouting report on Jay is that “he’ll try to fit some balls in there that he shouldn’t.” That’s pretty much it on the nose so I don’t really have anything meaningful to add. Dude throws the high heater like Ricky Vaughn and sometimes people get out in front and tag him. You just have to live with that if you want the bullets into the endzone for 6 that make your jaw hang open. His intangibles on the other hand are a continued subject of speculation and debate. Does he want it bad enough? Is he too cocky for the lockeroom? How hurt was he really when he didn’t finish the Green Bay game in the playoffs? (Now we know it was a sprained MCL so, ouch right?)
So how do these guys match up head to head? Well the last time they faced in 2010, the Bears came away with a 27-20 win. Cutler’s line: 21/29 for 277 yards with 3 TDs and 0 interceptions. Romo, 34/51 for 374 yards with a TD and, here’s the kicker, 2 picks. The turnover battle predictably sides with the victor in this battle of well meaning, turnover prone signal callers. It’s likely to be the same on Monday night, which brings us back to our scene on Main Street.
So our two gunslingers have the same basic flaw, eh? Trying so hard to win that you sometimes hurt your chances to do so. Maybe it’s a gene that all gunslinger’s inherit. If you and I know this, then you can bet that both defensive coordinator’s are locked in a film room devising new ways force them into these situations. The players know this too. There will be late hits from both sides. There will be illegal contact. Anything to get into the QB’s head in a match up like this, and especially under the dutiful watch of middle school refs. You think either one of these gunslingers is going to back down from a malicious pass rusher? I think not. Punctured lung? Broken thumb? That’s just another scar for these guys. Think they’ll knowingly step into a late hit to throw a bomb downfield? In a heartbeat. Think they’ll hesitate to draw when their window opens? Not likely. Will they fire a few stray bullets they’d like to have back? Absolutely, and that’s why they’re so fun to watch. If they catch a slug in the shoulder, they’ll get right back up for their next shot. You won’t see them jumping up and down hollering for the sheriff to save the day. Negative. He’s not coming. Overcome adversity. Or as The Duke said it, “Out here a man settles his own problems.”
This game could be one for the ages. A timeless duel we'll all tell our kids about. An anecdote about how brutal, yet exciting the NFL can be. Someone save me a stool near the window in the Saloon. I can't wait to watch.