CHICAGO -- In the biggest game of Jay Cutler's life, he laid an egg big enough to feed most of the people at Soldier Field. And when he couldn't play in the second half because of a knee injury, the haters accused him of being chicken.
It's easy to be down on Cutler these days. He wasn't as good as Aaron Rodgers. He wasn't good enough, period.
But that doesn't mean he's incapable -- or that he won't get better.
It's easy to forget Cutler still is a young quarterback at 28 with only five years of NFL experience. When you compare him with other quarterbacks, you find he isn't far off from where many were at a similar stage of development.
For instance, after Tom Brady's first five seasons, the Patriots quarterback had thrown for 99 fewer yards and seven fewer touchdowns than Cutler, had a worse yards per attempt (7.2 to 6.9), had been sacked eight fewer times and had a slightly better passer rating (87.5 to 84.3).
What Brady had that Cutler didn't was three Super Bowl rings. And a coach named Bill Belichick.
There are interesting lessons to be learned from looking at Cutler's first five years, compared with the first five years of 10 other established veteran quarterbacks: Brady, Rodgers, Drew Brees, Eli Manning, Peyton Manning, Donovan McNabb, Kyle Orton, Carson Palmer, Philip Rivers and Ben Roethlisberger.
Lesson 1: Cutler has been at a comparative disadvantage.
Cutler has played for four offensive coordinators in five years: Mike Heimerdinger, Jeremy Bates, Ron Turner and Mike Martz. None of the other 10 quarterbacks played for more than two, and three of the most successful -- Brady, Peyton Manning and Palmer -- played for only one.
Cutler has not had a chance to grow lengthy schematic roots and become a master of one way of doing things. He also has not had a chance to develop long-term chemistry with teammates.
The only other quarterback of the 10 to switch teams in his first five years was Orton.
Lesson 2: Cutler's productivity matches up well.
Only one of the 10 quarterbacks threw for more yards and touchdowns than Cutler, and finishing second to Peyton Manning in those categories is nothing to be ashamed of. Cutler also has had more attempts than any of them.
His completion percentage of .616 is better than the .607 average of the other 10.
Lesson 3: Cutler has not figured out how to win.
Cutler's winning percentage is lowest among the 11 quarterbacks. Some of this has been out of his control. He has not played on the same caliber of team, for instance, that Rivers and Roethlisberger have.
Cutler also has not had the same kind of fortification around him that many of the others had. He has had a Pro Bowl wide receiver or lineman on his side only once in five years, in 2008 when Brandon Marshall and Casey Wiegmann were teammates in Denver. (Johnny Knox played in the Pro Bowl in 2009, but he made it as a return specialist.)
Cutler has benefited from a top-10 defense only once in five years, last season when the Bears ranked ninth.
Whereas Brady won 75 percent of his regular-season games in his first five years, Cutler has won 50 percent.
Some of Cutler's wounds have been self-inflicted. Only Peyton Manning threw more interceptions in his first five years than Cutler, who has 78. Cutler's touchdown-to-interception ratio of 1.31 is second-worst to Orton's 1.30.
Cutler must improve that number before he can improve his winning percentage.
Lesson 4: Cutler is most similar to Roethlisberger.
Both are big, strong-armed passers who can move and make plays outside the pocket. Neither has been an ideal leader, and both have personality quirks.
The numbers from each player's first five years are comparable. Cutler threw for 990 more yards and three more touchdowns.
Like Cutler, Roethlisberger had a lot of negative plays. He threw 69 interceptions, 10 fewer than Cutler. He was sacked 192 times, 54 more than Cutler.
The big difference? Roethlisberger won 16 more of his starts -- not to mention two Super Bowls.
Some of that is because Roethlisberger is a clutch player who has made big plays at opportune times. And some of that is because Roethlisberger has been in a stable environment surrounded with better players.
Is it that outrageous to suggest that if they had traded places, Cutler might have won a couple of Super Bowls in Pittsburgh and Roethlisberger still would be trying to figure it out while working with his fourth offensive coordinator? It might not be.
The circumstances of Cutler's career make it difficult to judge him. We should find out if he has the fiber that made Roethlisberger a champion in the coming seasons, assuming he continues to mesh with Martz and Bears receivers.
Cutler has an excellent base to build on. If he has the will and stability around him, he still can become a premier quarterback.