Quarterback Jay Cutler is set to return to the Chicago Bears’ lineup.
Coach Marc Trestman says Cutler will start Sunday at Cleveland after missing the previous four games with a high left ankle sprain.
Josh McCown, who played well in his absence, goes back to a reserve role.
Cutler went through a full practice on Thursday after working out with the receivers following a walkthrough and got the green light to start this week. Linebacker Lance Briggs participated on a limited basis and Trestman was not optimistic about him returning from his shoulder injury against the Browns.
Cutler’s return comes on the heels of a blowout win over Dallas on Monday night that vaulted the Bears back into the NFC North race after back-to-back losses at St. Louis and Minnesota. They’re tied with Detroit at 7-6, with the Lions owning the head-to-head sweep.
That includes the game at Soldier Field on Nov. 10, when Cutler returned after sitting out the previous week because of a groin injury only to hurt his ankle when a defensive player rolled up his ankle. He stayed in until the Bears’ final drive of that game, even though he was laboring, when McCown led them to a touchdown and the potential tying two-point conversion failed.
When healthy, Cutler has played as well as he has since he arrived from Denver before the 2009 season. He has thrown for just over 1,900 yards, and his 88.4 rating is his highest as a Bear.
More than anything, he appeared to be clicking with Trestman, which was one of the main reasons Lovie Smith was fired after last season. The Bears wanted to get the most out of their quarterback, so they switched to an offensive-minded head coach.
McCown has also excelled in Trestman’s systems, and there were at least some calls to stay with the hot hand.
After all, McCown has thrown for more than 1,800 yards and completed nearly 67 percent of his passes. He has 13 touchdowns and just one interception, and his performance against Dallas might have been his best.
He became the first player in franchise history with three straight 300-yard passing games, throwing for 348 yards and a career-high four touchdowns. He also ran for one, getting spun like a helicopter as he leaped into the end zone.
But the message from Trestman and McCown was consistent the past few weeks — that the job was still Cutler’s, that he would start when he’s ready.
He’s coming back against a team that’s 4-9 after losing four straight, but the Browns boast one of the league’s top defenses. They’re seventh overall and tied for eighth against the pass.