EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Jay Cutler is often criticized for some of his decision-making, on and off the field, including this season’s outburst against offensive lineman J’Marcus Webb, but there is no doubting his importance to the Chicago Bears.
Take one look at Monday night’s embarrassing 32-7 loss at San Francisco in which Chicago finished with just 143 yards of net offense while Cutler was out with a concussion. Adding to a now two-year trend, the Bears are just not the same without Cutler.
“I think he is one of the best quarterbacks playing the game, and we are a different football team with him,” Chicago coach Lovie Smith told the Minnesota media in a teleconference on Wednesday. “Our record has been pretty good when he started and finished the football game. We’re a different football team with him, and hopefully we can be talking about playing a full game with him in there.”
Smith isn’t sure if Cutler will be able to return to the lineup for this week’s game against the Minnesota Vikings (6-4), but signs were encouraging on Wednesday. Cutler took a nasty helmet-to-helmet hit by Houston Texans linebacker Tim Dobbins two weeks ago. He ended up playing one more series before being replaced and diagnosed with the concussion.
Smith said Cutler would have been able to practice on a limited basis on Wednesday if the team had practiced — Chicago had the day off because of the Monday game. However, Cutler still needs to be given clearance by an independent doctor to go through full workouts or play in Sunday’s game.
“That’s hard to say,” Smith said about Cutler’s status for Sunday. “I just know that he’s getting better. If he would have practiced today, he would have been on a limited basis. So, things are looking good, but we just don’t know.”
The Bears season was derailed last year after Cutler broke his thumb. In games started by Cutler, Chicago began the season 7-3 and was in the thick of the playoff race. But backup Caleb Hanie struggled to the tune of a 41.8 quarterback rating and lost his four starts and third-stringer Josh McCown was 1-1 as the Bears fell short of the postseason.
In Cutler’s 50 starts for Chicago since he was acquired in a 2009 trade with the Denver Broncos, the team is 31-19. Without him, the Bears are 2-6, including 1-6 in the past two seasons.
Chicago felt it had properly addressed the backup quarterback situation heading into this season by signing former Washington Redskins and Oakland Raiders starter Jason Campbell. But all it took was one game with Campbell filling in to remind the Bears how vital Cutler has become to their success.
Pressured all game, Campbell completed 14-of-22 passes for 107 yards, two interceptions and one touchdown. He was 11 of 19 for 94 yards in replacing Cutler against Houston.
“We feel like we have a good backup plan, but it is a backup plan,” Smith said. “Jason can do some good things, but Jay is our starter. I think he is one of the best quarterbacks playing the game, and we are a different football team with him.
“Our record has been pretty good when he started and finished the football game. We’re a different football team with him, and hopefully we can be talking about playing a full game with him in there.”
Cutler hasn’t put up his the numbers he’s used to, but the team has won with him. He ranks 24th in the league with an 80.4 quarterback rating and has completed only 59.2 percent of his throws for 1,814 yards, 12 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.
Meanwhile, Cutler is 5-1 in his career against the Vikings, with a 100.8 quarterback rating and a 65.4 percent completion rate.