10/23/2012 01:27 pm ET Updated Dec 23, 2012

Jay Cutler Matures While Leading First-Place Bears

Jay Cutler is different. He is brash, arrogant and highly confrontational.

He is also immensely talented and the leader of a first-place, 5-1 Chicago Bears team that has won four games in a row.

Cutler has been a hot topic of discussion ever since he came into the NFL seven years ago. His ups have only been topped by his downs, which have often been followed by acting like a petulant child. Then come the question marks as to whether or not he has the leadership capacity to win a Super Bowl. At 29 years old, he has made just one Pro Bowl, in 2008. For his laundry list of emotional issues, though, Cutler is playing some of the best football of his career. Maybe he won't ever be the calming presence of a Tom Brady or as consistent as a Peyton Manning, but very few are.

Monday night, with the comfort of Pro Bowl wide receiver Brandon Marshall on the perimeter, he showed steely resolve after taking a tremendous body slam hit from Detroit defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, taking just one play off. Throughout the 13-7 win, Cutler found Marshall for several crucial first-down catches, as well as the first touchdown of the game. Understanding Marshall's role is important. He was Cutler's favorite target in Denver and without him, Cutler struggled greatly, trying to incorporate lesser talents like Devin Hester and Johnny Knox as his premier targets. In ESPN's MNF teaser, Cutler talked about how much more comfortable he feels having Marshall, easily one of the game's most challenging matchups.

The Bears are as good as anybody in this league right now, and of course, their defense is the core. But Cutler is the quarterback, and it is nearly impossible to sustain success without a good one. After six games, his numbers -- eight TDs and seven interceptions -- are certainly not gaudy. But, they don't need to be. He is going to make mistakes, but he's not Tony Romo 2.0 anymore, a frequent comparison. Cutler is not some mindless gunslinger and Monday night proved it. In the second half, he took two brutal sacks when in the past, he may very well have thrown up a prayer to be picked off. That signifies growth and maturity from a guy who has shown little of it during his career.

Jay Cutler is not the best quarterback in the NFL or close to it. He's not always going to say or do the right thing, nor does he seem to care. He is tough however -- very tough -- and he is a leader, if not in the most conventional way. The Bears meanwhile sit perched atop the NFC North, and that's all that matters in the Midway.

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