Jay Cutler tried to gut it out on Sunday. Would the Bears own sole possession of first place in the NFC North if he hadn't?
That's the question Chicago fans -- and head coach Marc Trestman -- will be left to ponder in the wake of a tough 21-19 loss to Detroit on Sunday. Cutler made an early return from the groin injury he suffered in Week 7 against Washington, only to scuffle through a tough afternoon. He finished 21-of-40 for 250 yards, one touchdown and an INT, but he labored throughout the second half.
Trestman then pulled Cutler (who apparently added an ankle injury to groin and hand woes) in favor of last week's starter, Josh McCown, for the Bears' final drive of the game. And McCown promptly drove Chicago down the field for a touchdown. The Bears failed on the two-point conversion attempt.
Cutler started the game hot, hitting on three of his first four passes and capping Chicago's opening drive with a 34-yard TD pass to Brandon Marshall. From there, though, perhaps aided by the chilly weather, he began to show more and more signs of being less than 100 percent. By the time the fourth quarter rolled around, Cutler was visibly hobbled. After that early Cutler-to-Marshall TD, the Bears mustered all of six additional points before McCown's late toss, as Cutler struggled to get any velocity on his throws.
There were some questions this week about the need to hurry Cutler back from his injury, after McCown performed well in relief at Washington and then took down the Packers in Green Bay. McCown finished the latter outing 22-of-41 for 272 yards and two touchdowns.
But with Cutler cleared by doctors to return and able to practice all week, the Bears went back to their No. 1 QB. And though McCown was never going to create a controversy against a healthy Cutler, it's fair to wonder just how ready Cutler was for Sunday.
FOX's announcing crew of Kenny Albert, Daryl Johnston and Tony Siragusa repeatedly wondered aloud throughout the second half if Trestman should make the switch back to McCown. Cutler did manage to drive the Bears into field-goal territory once in the third quarter, but he was just 3-of-9 through the air during that stanza.
Now, the Bears may face trouble ahead. Detroit completed a season sweep of Chicago with the win, meaning that not only did the Lions take a one-game lead on the Bears in the division but also now hold the tiebreaker.
Even more worrisome is Cutler's ability to bounce back physically. The now 5-4 Bears host Baltimore next week, then embark on a stretch that sees them play four of five away from home. Sunday's defeat put their backs against the wall a bit, so Trestman cannot afford to hedge on his QB pick going forward. Will it be Cutler or McCown next Sunday? Hard to say right now ... but Chicago probably should have opted for McCown in the second half this week.