CHICAGO -- Quarterback Jay Cutler's fast comeback from a torn left groin muscle was short-circuited Sunday by a new injury, to his left ankle, and it may have shifted the balance of power in the NFC's North division for the rest of the 2013 season.
With Green Bay already in trouble due to Aaron Rodgers' broken collarbone, the game between Cutler's Chicago Bears and the Detroit Lions was not only for first place in the NFC North but quite likely for control of the division for the rest of the season.
Advantage Lions. Detroit survived, 21-19, behind Matthew Stafford's three touchdown passes -- two of them to wide receiver Calvin Johnson -- by stopping a two-point conversion try, a run by Matt Forte that resulted in a two-yard loss, with 40 seconds to go after Cutler finally left the game.
Detroit has a 6-3 record, a one-game lead over the Bears and the Packers, a tie-breaker edge by sweeping the Bears, and faces only one game against a team with a winning record during the remainder of the season.
"It was a great win, no doubt about it, but you've got to make it count," Stafford said. "You've got to make this one count later on down the road. ... We've got to use this win in a positive light and make sure that we're ready to play next week."
Cutler's new injury occurred in the first half and, as the game wore on, it became increasingly clear he was limited in his movement as the Lions' defense zeroed in on him in the pocket and hit him repeatedly after he got rid of the ball.
But even after the Bears failed to score touchdowns on two goal-to-go situations, Cutler remained in the game until only 2:18 remained, when backup Josh McCown took over and led the Bears to their final touchdown.
Brandon Marshall, the Bears' leading receiver, said he was "proud" of Cutler, calling him "a soldier today," and saying, "He had all kinds of things going on from his waist down."
All of which, however, makes it reasonable to wonder if Cutler, whose pre-game completion percentage was 64.9, should have remained in the game as long as he did. He completed just 21 of 40 attempts - only 9 of 22 after halftime -- and he and coach Marc Trestman acknowledged they removed plays from the game plan which would have involved Cutler's moving around.
"Cutler's a strong guy," said defensive tackle Nick Fairley of Detroit, who stopped Forte on the final two-point attempt. "He got up after every hit. We were just like, 'We just got to keep coming.' Hopefully, we would get there enough to shake him up a little."
Chicago got two attempts for the tying two-point PAT; an incomplete pass by McCown on the first try was wiped out by a roughing-the-passer call.
What the Lions said:
"I kind of figured he was going to gut it out knowing the type of guy he is, the type of competitor he that he is, just by playing him every year." --Defensive tackle Nick Fairley, speaking about Bears QB Jay Cutler.
What the Bears said:
"I couldn't make some throws. I couldn't be as mobile. It just kind of limited us . . . I wanted to finish the game (but) the best option for the team was to put Josh in." --Quarterback Jay Cutler.
What we learned about the Lions:
1. The Lions' run defense is pretty good. Detroit won the battle at the line of scrimmage, limiting the Bears to just 38 yards on 20 rushes, and forcing a hobbled Jay Cutler into uncomfortable, down-and-distance, must-pass situations. Chicago had been averaging 4.5 yards a rush.
2. Reggie Bush needs only a crack. With the Bears' defense focused on Calvin Johnson, who was limited to 83 yards (two touchdowns) on six catches (17 passes thrown his way), Bush rushed for 105 yards on 14 carries.
What we learned about the Bears:
1. Their backup quarterback situation is the best it has been in several years but they waited too long to get Josh McCown into the game this time. In his complete game victory over Green Bay and parts of two others now, McCown has completed 42 of 70 attempts for 538 yards, four touchdowns, no interceptions and a 103.2 passer rating.
2. The improvement in the rebuilt offensive line remains a work in progress. The Bears did a good job in limiting the Lions to one sack in 50 dropbacks by their quarterbacks but they couldn't open holes for the running game and found themselves frequently in difficult down-and-distance situations.