Responsibility wasn’t supposed to come so quickly for Jay Cutler.
Chosen 11th in last year’s draft, Cutler figured to watch and learn from the Broncos sideline for a couple of years. Jake Plummer, after all, had quarterbacked the Broncos to the 2006 AFC Championship game in what arguably was his best season.
That plan held as the Broncos started 7-2 last year. But Plummer’s poor play prompted coach Mike Shanahan to insert the 23-year-old rookie after consecutive losses to AFC West rivals San Diego and Kansas City.
Cutler responded with an 88.5 passer rating and the second-highest touchdown percentage for a rookie since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger.
The Broncos still failed to reach the playoffs, but Cutler’s performance whetted the appetite of fans awaiting the next John Elway, who retired nine seasons ago after winning back-to-back Super Bowls.
“I got kind of lucky last year because I … had that honeymoon period where I really couldn’t do anything wrong and if I did … it was a rookie mistake,” Cutler told the Rocky Mountain News. “This year, people are obviously expecting great things and expecting me to go out there and not make mistakes.”
Elway’s first two successors, Brian Griese and Plummer, hurt their popularity by chafing at the expectations that come with being a Broncos quarterback.
But the former star of lightly regarded Vanderbilt is more at ease — at least with the football part of the job.
“It’s not that I’m not comfortable being the guy in Denver,” Cutler said. “I’m comfortable in the locker room. It’s just not a thing where I’m going to go put myself in the spotlight or do all kinds of interviews and be all over the map with marketing.
“I’m going to do what’s expected of me [by] the Broncos, and that’s pretty much it.”
If Cutler meets those expectations, he’ll be just fine.