Hoge: As Cutler Blossoms, Injury Could Ruin It All

By Adam Hoge-

CHICAGO (CBS) It was all coming together for Jay Cutler.

After two-plus seasons of up-and-down play by the Bears quarterback, Cutler had put together a string of six straight above average games, none better than his effort Sunday afternoon in the Bears’ 31-20 win over the Chargers at Soldier Field.

And now, all that momentum may have come to a screeching halt.

Multiple outlets are reporting Cutler broke the thumb on his throwing hand Sunday night and could miss 6-8 weeks. It’s never a good time for any injury, but for the Bears, this injury is devastating.

More Coverage:
Bernstein: Can Forte Carry Bears With Cutler Out?
Hoge: As Cutler Blossoms, Injury Could Ruin It All
Shepkowski: The Good, Bad And Ugly Of Bears-Chargers
Photos: Bears 31, Chargers 20

It took so long to get Cutler, Mike Martz and the entire Bears offense on the same page. Game after game went by with nothing but frustration as Martz, Cutler, the wide receivers and offensive line could not get a complex system to click. Finally, in recent weeks, it appeared that was happening as the Bears ran off five wins in a row.

And now Caleb Hanie might have to lead the Bears to the playoffs?

During the win-streak, Cutler was showing poise, toughness, accuracy and leadership, all characteristics previously criticized by fans and media from coast-to-coast throughout his career.

Something was finally clicking.

“I think he has a mindset,” head coach Lovie Smith said after Sunday’s win, failing to mention anything about a devastating injury to his quarterback. “It’s his second year in a system. I can’t tell you all the reasons why. I just know he deserves to play well – the amount of time he puts into his craft.”

A quick glance at Cutler’s career stats doesn’t do his transformation justice. His quarterback rating of 84.4 coming into Sunday’s game was right in line with his career average, but spend five minutes watching him actually play the game this season and you can tell he was blossoming as the quarterback of the Chicago Bears. He’s more confident, he’s more demonstrative and more importantly, he has clearly become the unquestioned leader of an offense that finally has an identity under Mike Martz.

And now Hanie might have to be that guy?

Cutler’s leadership was shown clearly on television monitors Sunday night when, after calling a timeout at the line of scrimmage, he walked towards the sideline and yelled, “That’s two on you.” He appeared to be directing the comment at quarterbacks coach Shane Day who relays the play calls from Martz to Cutler and it was hardly out of line. Instead, it represented some much needed accountability every good team has and it showed that like most great quarterbacks, Cutler is in charge.

Hanie, most certainly, won’t be “in charge”.

All-in-all, Cutler completed 18-of-31 passes Sunday for 286 yards and two touchdowns. He also ran for a score on a quarterback sneak.

But Cutler’s biggest play actually came on an interception — his first since Week 7 against the Buccaneers — when Johnny Knox slipped and Antoine Cason picked off the pass and appeared to be headed for the end zone to cut into the Bears’ 31-20 lead. Cason made it 60 yards downfield, but Cutler never gave up on the play and fought off a block to slow Cason down, allowing Forte to get there in time and push the Chargers’ defensive back out of bounds at the 16-yard line. Three plays later, Bears safety Major Wright intercepted Philip Rivers in the end zone, preserving the lead for good.

“That might have been the biggest play of the game,” Smith said. “We don’t want Jay to make a lot of tackles, but sometimes you have to.”

As it turns out, that was the play Cutler broke his thumb. And it may end up being the biggest play of the season for all the wrong reasons.

“You don’t want to be in that position too often, having to run down a DB, but you have to do what you have to do,” Cutler said.

Ironically, the play that might put him on the sidelines is also the perfect example of the new, much improved Jay Cutler. In the past, mistakes could often lead to more blunders, but Sunday, the Bears’ quarterback turned his only mistake into his biggest play of the game.

And if there are any remaining questions about his toughness, those have been answered, considering he finished the game with the broken thumb. And not only that, but he also took a knee to the back of the head in the third quarter and shook it off by completing four straight passes before scoring himself on a quarterback sneak. Cutler was shaking his head trying to clear the cobwebs throughout the drive, but all of his throws were sharp and on the money.

This is the Cutler Bears fans thought they were getting when he was traded over from Denver in 2009 and it’s easy to forget that he was coming off a Pro Bowl season when the trade was made.  But, after a slow start to the season, Cutler was finally looking more and more like one of the league’s better quarterbacks again.

And now it might be over.

In the on-going saga that is Jay Cutler and the Chicago Bears, the latest chapter is quite simply, brutal.

adam hoge Hoge: As Cutler Blossoms, Injury Could Ruin It All

Adam Hoge

Adam is the Sports Content Producer for CBSChicago.com and specializes in coverage of the Bears, White Sox and college sports. He was born and raised in Lincoln Park and attended St. Ignatius College Prep before going off to the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he earned a Journalism degree. Follow him on Twitter @AdamHogeCBS and read more of his columns here.

  • tom Sharp

    At least 6 teams are playing without their starting QB, unlike the Bears, most of them have viable, experienced replacements. Too bad the Bears never seemed to worry about having a decent backup and/or getting Hanie some more playing time. Cutler and other starters have played far too long into one-sided games several times this year and last. They were not getting by Green Bay anyway. Better luck (and better preparation for injuries) nest year.

    • Chris in Scottsdale

      Of those teams with backups playing right now, who has “viable experienced replacements”?
      Houston with Matt Leinart?
      Philadelphia with Vince Young?
      Kansas City with Tyler Palko?
      Arizona with John Skelton?
      Indianapolis with Curtis Painter?

      Is Hanie really worse than any of those? No.

      Oakland had one because they traded the farm to get one.
      Denver has one completely by accident.

      Fact is, just about all NFL teams are in a world of hurt if their #1 guy goes down. Most teams that have even a “passable” replacement only have one because there was a QB controversy in training camp between mediocre bodies, such as in Seattle and Washington.

      Good quarterbacks don’t sit. It’s just that simple.

      • tom Sharp

        I agree with the fact that everyone hurts when their starter goes down; however, I doubt any other team can make the claim that their second string guy had ZERO practice reps with the first string players even counting training camp! Lovie and Martz seem to operate in a dream world that doesn’t prepare for QB injuries. I’ll take Ponder and Vince Young over Hanie any day. We’ll see if Hannie and the Bears are ready for “8 in the box” and blitzes from Oakland (the poster team for personal fouls –6 this weekend vs. Minn.) Take Oakland and the under at the window.

  • Jay

    Cutler or no Cutler, unless Rodgers goes down in the playoffs, nobody but GB is making it out of the NFC and that sucks as a Bears fan to say but it is the truth. Bears still can make the playoffs with Hanie under center. Denver, Seattle and KC are all very winnable w/out Cutler and then they just have to win in MN to get to 11 wins which should get them in for sure, maybe even 10. It sucks to see him hurt, and for an extended period of time, but this is not exactly a super bowl team that just had its big chance taken away. Cutler has been good this season but the Bears D and ST’s won the Detroit game. I like Cutler a lot and glad the Bears have him but let us all keep things in perspective.

  • Ambassador Blutarski

    Did we give up when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor?

    • ATfan2114

      I think that was the Japanese.

      • Chris in Scottsdale

        Forget it, he’s rolling.

  • val

    Really have to get to work now…. Tailor an offense that plays to Hanies strengths..Play good defense, and special teams..Create short field situations for the offense..PLAY GOOD DEFENSE…..get somebody as a suitable backup for Hanie…..PLAY SOLID DEFENSE!!!!!!!!!.

  • http://www.chicagonow.com/eye-on-chi/2011/11/bears-win-fifth-straight-cutler-possibly-done-for-the-year/ Bears win fifth-straight, Cutler possibly done for the year | Eye on Chi

    […] Dan Berstein asks can Matt Forte carry the load with Cutler out. Adam Hodge wrote about how the timing of Cutler's injury couldn't have been worse as things were finally starting to click for the much-malig…. […]

  • Richie

    I dont know why us as Bears fans are afraid of the Packers. The Bears have one of the best if not the best front 4 in all of the NFL. You can not blitz Rogers rush 4 and drop Briggs and the boys into pass coverage. Watch for the quick release and stop the damn run this time. The Bears have the most dangerous playing in all of football Hester. If he could catch on the regular not only would that have the best return man but maybe the 2nd best deep threat. Hanie proved to me he can play last season when Cutler went out with the knee. The only team that really puts a fear in my stomach is the Oakland Raiders and that rushing attack they have. The Bears have struggled against weaker backs…ie Best and that joker in GB i hate to see how they look against Bush and Mcfadden if hes playing. Please Stop putting the Packers on such high praise. They havent played a front 4 like the Bears all season besides a poorly played game by the Bears. The Packers are showing weakness every week and the Teams they are beating the Bears are beating by more each and every week

  • alf514

    Did Cutler die or something? All you heard from the press prior to this game is how badly he’s played the last couple of weeks. Now he’s the second coming of Johnny Unitas.

  • Larry Horse's Arse Horse's Arse

    The Bears have won games this year with defense and ST’s alone. Their offense has been lackluster half of the time. It seems that when one aspect of their game is bad that another aspect picks it up, e.g. if the offense is bad the defense picks it up. The Bears have also had a lot of luck.

    The Bears will still win games with Hanie. They’ll go 10-6 and make the playoffs. And they can beat GB with good defense, turnovers and great ST play.

    I have to wonder why teams ever kick the ball to Hester. Is the NFL mandating this? It’s just insane to kick to the guy when your team can play better than the Bears and have it taken away in 20 seconds by a Hester return. It boggles the mind why anyone kicks to him.

  • Jonathan

    I for one have always thought Hanie has showed poise when he has gotten reps. I think the biggest threat to the Bear’s ability to win is now Mike Martz. He knows nothing about tailoring plays to a QB’s abilities, and he seems to have a dislike for Hanie. He’s probably lobbying hard right now for some old a@@ cracker that can’t play worth a lick. To Lovie – please give Hanie a chance and for god’s sake, don’t let Martz hi-jack the game plan.

  • Russ Hoover

    Disastrous. Even if Cutler comes back in six weeks his timing with his receivers will be gone. They will be used to playing with a different QB. It will end badly.

  • Youngster

    Never Give up!!! Bears won 12 games with Jim Miller!!!!

  • Youngster

    If Bears make it to playoff and are lucky enough to get to Green Bay… all they have to do is knock out Rodgers. Then anything can happen. But if Rodgers is sitting pretty and have all day to throw, even wit Cutler, Bears don’t have chance. If you give me +2,500 on moneyline for Bears, I would still not take that.

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