There is no gray area in Marc Trestman’s decision to return Jay Cutler to the starting lineup. He meant what he said when the high ankle sprain occurred against Detroit Nov. 10. It was the plan. Once Cutler was cleared by doctors to play, he would start no matter how well Josh McCown played in his absence. Cutler knew it. McCown knew it. “It’s a really hard thing to do, but I feel like I’m getting better at it in my career,” McCown said. “If you can just focus on whatever the next thing is and just doing that thing then I think you’ll be all right. When you start looking up and thinking about what’s going on or thinking about, ‘Oh, I’m playing like this’ or ‘this is happening’ good or bad. If you start looking at those things you’re going to sink. It’s not going to be good.” I asked McCown what he got out of this stretch of starts, and he said he got a lot of confidence in his preparation and the way he’s going about everything. He said he likes the plan he has every week on how he approached the game plans on how he studied every week.
Devin Hester really wants to finish his chase for the NFL record for return touchdowns. Tied with his mentor Deion Sanders at 19, he was disappointed when a holding penalty wiped out his 62-yard punt return touchdown at Minnesota a few weeks ago. It’s important to him to set the record as a Bear. He wants to remain a Bear and play four to five more seasons, but he knows his short-term future is up in the air, given his pending free agency. Hester is one of only 15 players who have returned a punt or kick for a touchdown this season. A total of 19 touchdowns have been returned on 4,220 kickoffs and punts. Do the math. It’s rare. A year ago, there were 32 total touchdowns for the season by 26 players. There are fewer home runs this year, but still 48 games left in the season. Hopefully, there is at least one touchdown left in Hester to help the Bears win.
On the topic of return touchdowns, there have been 51 interception returns for a touchdown, including four by the Bears, who still share the NFL lead with Kansas City and Washington. However, the Bears have not had one since rookie defensive end David Bass picked Baltimore’s Joe Flacco at Soldier Field on Nov. 17. A year ago, pick-sixes totaled 71. Scoop and score fumble returns are up from a total of 21 a year ago, to 28 this season. Julius Peppers had one courtesy of Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger Sept. 22. New Orleans is the only team in the league to be shut out on return touchdowns of any kind. Kansas City, Carolina and San Francisco are the only teams to avoid being scored on by a return. Overall, the Bears have 23 takeaways, but 17 of those came in the first six games of the season. They’ve forced only six in the last seven games, and no fumbles forced since Sept.29 in Detroit.
4th and Short
You have to respect the effort of a trio of role players on the Bears. Fullbacks may be falling out of favor for offensive coordinators around the league, but Tony Fiammetta played 29 snaps Monday night, which was 8th most in the NFL for fullbacks in week 14. He was very good at the point of attack on lead blocks for Matt Forte, who was also good at patiently waiting for those blocks to develop before making his move. I look forward to watching him go to work in Cleveland against the Browns’ stout front seven. Sherrick McManis made a big hit and tackle on kick coverage, and finished with three tackles on special teams, making a run for the top of the tackle chart, trailing veteran Blake Costanzo by three. Lastly, nickel defender Isaiah Frey has played 45 percent of the defensive snaps, but is 8th in tackles, with 44 with two quarterback pressures and a half sack off blitzes. According to Stats, Inc., Frey has been targeted on throws only 29 times, which indicates he’s not getting picked on in the slot by opposing quarterbacks. Essentially a rookie, Frey works extremely hard. At 190 pounds and still with a cast on his broken right hand, he’s half linebacker, half cornerback playing that challenging inside position in the nickel defense.