By Adam Hoge-
HALAS HALL (CBS) — The latest Jay Cutler injury saga has not played out in a typical fashion.
There are a number of reasons for that, the most obvious of which is that Cutler has proven the ability to heal quickly, including when he bounced back from a torn groin in just three weeks earlier this season.
In doing so, Cutler beat the Bears’ original timetable of “at least four weeks,” which then created a controversy when the quarterback suffered a high ankle sprain just two quarters into his return.
Did he return too quickly? Should the coaches have let him heal for an extra week? Did the groin cause the ankle injury?
All of those questions were prematurely thrown out there during the game, when the reality was that the ankle injury occurred independently in the second quarter and did not have any direct correlation to the groin. Cutler was hit by a blitzing linebacker and rolled up on by his own offensive lineman. Healthy groin or not, there’s no way he could have escaped the pressure that resulted in a high ankle sprain.
A valid question lingering in the air following the injury was why Cutler played deep into the fourth quarter when he suffered the injury with 2:56 left in the second quarter. Trestman was told by the team’s medical staff at halftime that Cutler could not make the injury worse by playing on it, but with every week that passes, that opinion seems more and more equivocal.
This time, the Bears did not set a minimum timetable. “Week-to-week” was all head coach Marc Trestman would offer up the following day, although he quickly ruled Cutler out for the upcoming game against the Ravens.
No one can blame the Bears for taking that approach after Cutler’s quick healing groin accidentally caused a headache for the team when he beat their original timetable.
But that doesn’t mean the vague “week-to-week” approach with the ankle hasn’t created more questions this time around. Sunday will mark four weeks since the ankle injury occurred, and Cutler did not return to the practice field until this Thursday — in just a limited capacity. He has not been cleared by doctors to play and won’t return until Dec. 15 in Cleveland at the earliest.
In other words, Cutler has not healed quickly this time and it has some speculating that the injury is worse than originally feared. That speculation was somewhat fueled by the quarterback saying on his radio show on ESPN Nov. 18 that “there are a couple of ligaments that we’re a little worried about that’s different than the normal high ankle sprain. There are a few other things involved. If I just had a normal high ankle sprain, I wouldn’t be in a cast. (A cast) helps it scar up and stuff, but the normal high ankle sprain isn’t really a concern at this point.”
That wasn’t the same message Trestman gave a week later, when he ruled Cutler out for his third consecutive game: “It is week-to-week and there’s nothing other than a high ankle sprain involved here, I want to make that very clear.”
The mixed messages aren’t helping, but the Bears are sort of in a no-win situation after what happened with the groin injury.
The reality is that the team likely did not expect Cutler to be out as long as he has, but they knew early that it wasn’t a minor injury.
“I was kind of a little more in the loop than you guys as far as I understood the kind of pain he was in, things like that,” backup quarterback Josh McCown said Friday. “So I understood that he was hurting, that it was pretty bad. But I also thought that this guy could come back any day now because of just how tough he is and the type of competitor he is.”
Given the nature of Cutler’s high-profile position and his knack for healing quickly, no one can fault his teammates for wondering when he’ll return and why he hasn’t done so yet.
So how has Trestman addressed the topic with his players?
“When Jay sprained his ankle, early in the week, I said Jay would be week-to-week and Josh would be taking over the position and if there’s a change, I’ll let you know,” the head coach said. “The clarity and the communication is very important. That’s why I was very specific early in the week: the decision had been made on a week-to-week basis that Jay would not be playing. The team knows that, and sees that Josh is taking every rep. We’re not going into any week with players being distracted by positional situations. If there’s something under consideration, I’ll just let the players know, but in our meeting rooms, in our team meeting room, the players know exactly where we are regarding personnel decisions.”
One player told CBSChicago.com that he was “a little surprised” Cutler had not returned yet, but “only because he has shown how tough he is.” And with the quarterback returning to practice on a limited basis this week, there is optimism inside the Bears’ locker room that he’ll return next week to face the Browns.
Whether or not that happens depends on Cutler getting medically cleared by the doctors, which can’t be guaranteed given the unpredictable nature of how the injury has healed. But don’t expect the quarterback to be shutdown for the season if the Bears fall further back in the playoff chase with a loss Monday against the Cowboys.
Asked Thursday if Cutler will play again this season, Trestman simply said: “Absolutely.”
He couldn’t have made it more clear than that, especially given the murky nature of this injury.
Cutler will be back. Very soon.
Adam Hoge covers the Bears for CBSChicago.com and is a frequent contributor to 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter at @AdamHoge.