Cutler leads Bears past Chargers, 31-20

BY foxsports • November 21, 2011

Jay Cutler showed no obvious signs of an injury.

He made no mention of it, either. But it could be a while before he plays again for the Chicago Bears.

The Chicago Tribune reported that Cutler broke his right thumb during Sunday's 31-20 victory over the San Diego Chargers and was expected to miss six to eight weeks.

The Bears would not confirm the report. Cutler's agent, Bus Cook, did not return messages from The Associated Press.

The Tribune reported that Cutler was injured trying to prevent a touchdown on a 64-yard interception return by San Diego's Antoine Cason in the fourth quarter. Cutler got knocked to the ground by linebacker Donald Butler.

He stayed in the game and wound up with 286 yards passing. Cutler threw for two touchdowns and ran for another while leading the Bears to their fifth straight victory.

He took longer than usual to come out for his postgame news conference but showed no visible signs of an injury. He and coach Lovie Smith did not mention it.

The last thing the Bears need is to lose Cutler after making a big leap into contention. Without him, they'll have to go with backup Caleb Hanie.

The reports about Cutler clearly overshadowed everything else on a day when Chicago (7-3) handed the Chargers (4-6) their fifth straight loss, their longest slide since an 0-5 start in 2003. But it wasn't easy.

Rivers threw for 280 yards. For most of the game, he looked more like a Pro Bowl quarterback than the guy who had been turning it over at an alarming rate. But two late interceptions helped preserve the win for Chicago.

''I played against Philip and San Diego many times, and they've always had a high-powered offense and they're not going to give up,'' said Cutler, who lost four of five against the Chargers when he was with Denver. ''They're going to come back and fight. Philip is a smart quarterback. He knows where weaknesses are in defenses, especially in the third and fourth quarter, so we knew we were going to be in a battle even though we kept scoring.''

The Bears were leading 31-20 when Cason returned his interception 64 yards to the Chicago 16 before being pushed out of bounds by Matt Forte, with help from Cutler.

''Maybe Jay's biggest play on the game might have been on that interception, buying time for Matt Forte,'' Smith said. ''Who would have thought we'd be talking about Matt Forte and Jay Cutler on a defensive play that they made.''

That might be talked about for a while in Chicago, given the reports about Cutler.

After that interception, Rivers basically sealed the loss when he tried to squeeze a pass to Vincent Jackson in the end zone but got picked off by Major Wright.

Rivers also had a pass intercepted by Chicago's Corey Graham in the closing minutes, giving the quarterback a league-leading 17 INTs, on a ball that he was trying to throw away.

Rivers said in hindsight he never should have thrown the ball that Wright intercepted, ''but once it leaves your hand you can't bring it back.''

Can the Chargers bounce back? They've been known to make late surges under Norv Turner, and they'll need another one if they're going to save this season.

But time may be running out.

''Absolutely,'' Jackson said. ''We only play 16 regular-season games. We're not like NBA, we're not like hockey, so each and every one is precious.''

Playing the first of four straight games against AFC West opponents, Chicago got strong performances from Cutler and Johnny Knox to remain tied with Detroit for second place in the NFC North.

Cutler was 18 of 31 with the interception and did not get sacked, even though there was more shuffling on the line. Edwin Williams replaced the injured Chris Williams at left guard.

Knox had three catches for 97 yards, including a twisting touchdown reception in the third quarter that made it a 14-point game, although he did slip on Cason's interception. Earl Bennett came up big, too, with 75 yards receiving, and Roy Williams chipped in with 62 yards.

Devin Hester had a 37-yard punt return and a 22-yarder that set up a second-quarter TD run by Marion Barber. And along with his contributions on offense, Knox returned a kickoff 53 yards, leading to a TD catch by Kellen Davis late in the first half.

Charles Tillman had a key strip and fumble recovery.

For the Chargers, Rivers completed 21 of 31 passes, with Jackson catching seven for 165 yards.

Notes: Smith said he wasn't sure how serious LS Patrick Mannelly's knee injury was. The veteran missed the second half. ... The Bears have scored 30 or more in three straight games. ... Wright has an interception in three straight games. ... Jackson had 172 yards for the Chargers against New England on Sept. 18. ... San Diego is 1-4 on the road.