The Chicago Bears may have defeated the San Diego Chargers for their fifth straight win on Sunday, but that 31-20 victory came with a heavy price. According to sources who have spoken to Vaughan McClure of the Chicago Tribune, quarterback Jay Cutler suffered a broken thumb late in the Chargers game, and could be on the mend for 6-8 weeks. The break is reportedly on his throwing hand and will require surgery.
Backup Caleb Hanie will be the projected starter for the Bears, who are preparing to face the Oakland Raiders next Sunday.
The Tribune report indicated that the current plan is to avoid placing Cutler on injured reserve and hope he's ready to play if the Bears make the playoffs. At 7-3, they're currently tied with the Detroit Lions for second place in the NFC North, behind the undefeated Green Bay Packers.
The consensus is that Cutler suffered the injury with 10:03 left in the game when he was looking to prevent a touchdown from an interception return by San Diego cornerback Antoine Cason. Cutler was knocked to the ground by linebacker Donald Butler.
"It's unusual, yes," head coach Lovie Smith said of Cutler's willingness to go after Cason on the play. "On the tackle, what do you do? It's kind of simple as that. It might have been the biggest play of the game. We don't want Jay to make a lot of tackles, but sometimes he has to. Sometimes he has to run also. That's kind of how it goes."
The last time Cutler missed time with an injury of note was in the 2010 NFC Championship game, when a knee injury kept him out of the second half of a close loss to the Packers. Hanie came in for Cutler and went 13 of 20 for 153 passing yards, one touchdown, and two interceptions. The Bears lost that game, 21-14, and Cutler was roundly (and, as it turned out, wrongly) criticized by many for not playing hurt when the perception was that he possibly could.
Now, there's no blame or speculation — just worry over how the Bears will be able to overcome this blow. After a 2-3 start to the season, Cutler and the Bears' offense had come together in the last month behind better protection and the performance of running back Matt Forte. In November, Cutler had completed 45 passes in 82 attempts for 617 yards, four touchdowns, and one interception.