IRVING, Texas -Through three games, there is a pretty common image most fans have of both Jay Cutler and Tony Romo.Unfortunately it's not the image of them throwing touchdown passes, which they both have done on a regular basis over the course of their careers. The image that many fans have is that of Cutler and Romo on the ground, products of offensive lines that have left them out to dry.
Both quarterbacks have taken their share of hits in their careers, but this season has seemed especially rough on the two, who are both brave enough to throw a strike down field seconds before being bulldozed by a pass rusher.
Romo has been sacked seven times this year, and is narrowly on pace for the most of his career, while Cutler has already been dropped 11 times. This Monday they will have to worry about Julius Peppers and DeMarcus Ware, respectively. The struggles of both quarterbacks' offensive lines are well documented, but their high number of sacks may also have something to do with their unwillingness to give up a play.
"(Romo) has a quick release when he has people in his face he can get the ball out," Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. "But similarly, he can extend the play with his feet and not only to run, but to make plays on the move in the pocket to make plays down the field. Jay Cutler has similar abilities. He can extend plays and throw the ball all over the park."
The physical toll that has been taken on Cutler and Romo is not the only burden that the two share. They both also have to deal with the mental burden of playing for a city and fan base that will be quick to blame the quarterback if the team finishes anywhere but first in the standings.
The Bears and Cowboys are two franchises that consider anything less than a Super Bowl parade to be a failure, and considering the fact Romo and Cutler have only led their teams to a combined two playoff wins, they have both faced their fair share of criticism.
Terms like "can't get it done," "not clutch," and "will never win it all" have been applied to these two probably as much as any two players who have accomplished as much as they have. Both quarterbacks have thrown for at least 120 touchdowns and 18,000 yards over their careers. But the bar is set extremely high for both the Cowboys and the Bears and patience runs thin quickly.
Bears head coach Lovie Smith acknowledged that his quarterback has to deal with the added pressure of his position along with his on the field responsibilities. He also pointed out that Tony Romo is in a very similar situation.
"You're the quarterback of the Chicago Bears," Smith said. "You're going to get scrutinized quite a bit. I'd say Tony Romo is probably saying some of the same things. That just goes with the territory."
For his part, Romo has been playing in Dallas for a long time and he is used to the expectations. He expects criticism every game.
"I've said it before, there's a microscope under every quarterback on every team," Romo said. "I've never been anywhere else except Dallas. It just feels normal. Part of the process is being critiqued."
While constant fan and media scrutiny may come with the territory, Bears receiver Brandon Marshall, who played three years with Cutler in Denver and rejoined him this year in Chicago, sympathizes with his quarterback and the negative attention constantly brought to him.
"Jay is Jay," Marshall said. "I don't think there's anyone that could be put in this situation and do a better job than he has. And I'm not talking about outwardly. I'm talking about inwardly. When you get criticized nationally for the world to watch, it's really tough for some people to bounce back. Some people get criticized behind closed doors by a loved one or a friend and it ruins their day or week or maybe their whole life. And for Jay to be criticized the way he is it's really amazing to see him handle adversity and bounce back and continue to lead us."
While the criticism of Romo and Cutler may be often overblown, both quarterbacks will, in fact, make mistakes, the price the Cowboys and Bears pay for starting quarterbacks who thrive off taking chances to making big plays.
Tony Romo has often been compared to Brett Favre for his ability to make something out of nothing. Whether it's flipping a shovel pass to a running back as he is being tackled or spinning away from a sack in order to throw a strike across the field to a streaking receiver, that type of play allows little room for error.
Cutler is similar in that he has the arm strength and accuracy to complete nearly impossible passes. But like Romo, that type of ability comes with a confidence to throw passes in windows that just aren't there. This season Cutler has already thrown six interceptions.
Even with Cutler's struggles with intereceptions, Romo says that just from watching Cutler play on television, it is apparent that he's extremely talented.
"He does a great job," Romo said. "He's a strong-armed quarterback who gives every team he's playing for a chance."
The key to Monday night's game just might be which quarterback can stay on his feet the longest. They both should be used to taking hits in the pocket this season (if one can get used to such a thing), but if one of them gets the time he needs to throw the ball then he will very likely make the big plays on the big stage.
But on the other hand, only one of these quarterbacks is going to wake up Tuesday morning on a team above .500, and the people of Chicago and North Texas don't exactly cope well with mediocrity.
Monday Night is going to be a big game. But then again, for these two quarterbacks, they all are.