COMMENTARY | It seems the Chicago Bears have been walking the tight rope each week of late, with one ill-step potentially meaning the end to their entire season.
Chicago's high-wire act will once again be performing without a net on Sunday as it was announced Jay Cutler will reclaim his starting job for the Bears and be back in action for their Week 15 showdown against the Cleveland Browns.
A quarterback controversy has been a major storyline in Chicago thanks to backup QB Josh McCown keeping the Bears afloat with a 3-2 record and his 11 touchdowns to only one interception as a starter. Many fans suggested head coach Marc Trestman should ride the hot hand and keep McCown under center during the Bears' most pivotal portion of the season. However, Trestman continued to be unwavering in his stance that Cutler was the starting quarterback when healthy.
"When [Cutler] is good to go and can have a full week of practice, he'll be our quarterback," Trestman said.
For his part, McCown has echoed the sentiment on his head coach, confirming that he understands his role and who the starting quarterback is.
"The team knows who the starting quarterback is, and like I said before, I know my job as the backup," McCown said. "I want to play efficient football, winning football and keep us in contention while the starter is not healthy."
Cutler had missed the last four games after re-aggravating a previous groin injury, while also sustaining a high ankle sprain in the Bears' Week 10 lose to the Detroit Lions. Cutler is in the final year of his initial five-year, $50.37 million contract and much speculation has been made that then stellar play of McCown in the new Marc Trestman offense could usher in the end to Cutler's tenure in Chicago.
For Cutler and the Bears, their focus remains on securing the NFC North title. Entering Week 15, the Bears and Lions are tied atop the division at 7-6; however, Detroit holds the tiebreaker on the strength of its season-series sweep of the Bears in their two previous meetings this season.
The Lions will play host to the defending Super Bowl Champions, Baltimore Ravens, this Monday night in Detroit. The Lions have been unable to slam the door shut on the division after going 1-3 in their last four games. Baltimore comes in riding a three-game winning streak, but they are two games back in their own divisional race and are just 1-5 on the road this season.
If the Bears are able to defeat the Browns on Sunday, they would take a half-game lead over the Lions in the division, which would require Detroit to win on Monday to keep pace. The Brown have the No. 7 ranked defense in the NFL, but what may be more troublesome for Cutler is their ability to rush the passer. Cleveland ranks No. 2 in the entire league with 43 sacks on opposing QBs.
Aside from the quarterback situation in Chicago, the game may come down to the ability of the Bears' defense to stop Cleveland. Chicago enters play on Sunday having given up 100 yards or more to the opposing running back in an NFL-record six straight games. The Browns' starter Willis McGahee will be sidelined with a concussion this week, giving the starting role to Chris Ogbonnaya, who has averaged 5.3 yards per carry on the ground and is a dangerous pass-catching threat out of the backfield.
The Bears must also contain wide receiver Josh Gordon who is leading the NFL in receiving (1,400 yards) thanks to in impressive last month of the season that has seen the second-year star rack up 774 yards over his last four games.
An interesting sub-plot to the Cutler story will be whether or not Trestman will give his franchise quarterback the quick hook if he under performs or does not look 100 percent healthy. The first-year head coach took considerable criticism for keeping Cutler in the game too long after his mobility became visibility limited in their Nov. 10, loss to the Lions. McCown entered the game in the fourth quarter and immediately led the Bears on a scoring drive, but came up just short of tying the game on a two-point conversion attempt. If history repeats itself, Trestman could be faced with a similar dilemma this Sunday.
Dalton Russell has covered the Chicago Bears in print and online media since 1998. He lives just outside the shadow of the iconic architecture of Soldier Field.
- Sports & Recreation
- American Football
- Chicago Bears
- Jay Cutler
- Marc Trestman
- Cleveland Browns
- Josh McCown