Bears quarterback Jay Cutler didn't mind sitting out one game just to be on the safe side after suffering a concussion Oct. 3, but he's anxious to be back in the starting lineup Sunday against the Seahawks at Soldier Field.
The Bears used defense and special teams last week to improve their record to 4-1, tied for the best in the NFL. But with Cutler, it will be a more complete team that welcomes the 2-2 Seahawks.
Before sitting out last week's 23-6 victory over the Panthers, Cutler had started 57 straight games and had been sacked 94 times even before Oct. 3, when the Giants got to him nine times, one of which caused the injury.
"I've been banged up before and stuff and still went out and played," said Cutler, who will be back in the starting lineup Sunday barring any setbacks. "But your head and your brain are totally different. Once you start getting into that element, you kind of have to take a step back. This league is all about battling through injuries and stuff, but obviously concussions and your head are some things you have to take pretty seriously."
Fortunately for Cutler, his concussion was mild, but he still had some of the classic symptoms as recently as last week.
"There's some dizziness, general fogginess of your surroundings. You're not as sharp, and your awareness is a little bit down," Cutler said. "So all of that stuff kind of combined into how I was feeling."
Cutler had similar symptoms in the Giants game even before halftime, when it was determined that he would not return to the field. Because he was sacked so frequently, it's still unclear which hit caused the concussion.
"I haven't really went back and watched it and really looked at each and every hit from a TV angle, so I'm not for sure which one it was," he said. "But there were some moments in the second quarter that I probably wasn't completely aware of what was going on."
That may have played into what was clearly his worst performance of the season.
"I don't think it helped," said Cutler, whose 102.2 passer rating for the season is still fifth best in the NFL. "But I still knew what was going on. I still knew where the hot reads were, still knew where guys were at on the field."
Although most of the blame for the nine sacks goes to linemen, tight ends and running backs being beaten by Giants' pass rushers, Cutler's inability to get rid of the ball sooner was partly responsible.
"It takes 11 guys to make a play go right," he said, "and it takes only a couple to make it go wrong, so we are all responsible."
But that game and the injury are in the rearview mirror as far as Cutler is concerned. He says he won't change the way he plays the game, which means he won't always slide feet first to protect himself from a hit when he runs the ball.
"That's kind of what this game is all about," he said. "Each week is a new fight out there, the slate is wiped clean. You've got to have a short memory in this league. I can't change the way I play."
And that's fine with Bears coach Lovie Smith.
"We let him play the way he normally plays," Smith said. "As far as being careful, you can't play football being careful. You're always trying to play smart ball. If there's a time for a quarterback to run out of bounds or slide, they'll do that. We're going to protect Jay better and hope the running game will help out some also and let him just play his brand of ball."
NOTES AND QUOTES
"The goal line has been a real frustration for us," he said. "We have to continue to address that and make sure we're doing the right things. I've never... This is kind of new thing. ... I'm kind of dumbfounded here about it. But we'll address it, and that's got to be resolved. We've got to get that resolved this week. That's more of a coaching deal for me. You can do too much down there, and we just have to let them play."
A result of the problem is that before Matt Forte's two rushing touchdowns last week, the Bears had scored just one rushing touchdown in the previous 13 games. ...
Smith declined to confirm that Caleb Hanie has moved ahead of Todd Collins on the depth chart, but that's a foregone conclusion after Collins was intercepted four times as last week's fill-in starter before he was pulled late in the third quarter.
"I felt bad for Todd," said Cutler, who is back as the starter after sitting out last week with a concussion. "It's hard to come in mid-training camp and to pick up [the offense] right there and then not get any reps once the season starts. It's almost impossible to do it. He had a few tough breaks, missed a few throws, but that's how it goes sometimes." ...
Last week's 218-yard ground explosion was the first time this season that the Bears' running attack asserted itself, partially because the focus of the offense has been the passing game.
But Smith says he's satisfied with the platoon system that features Forte as the starter and Chester Taylor as his trusty sidekick.
Taylor is averaging just 2.9 yards per carry but has found a niche as a short-yardage runner and a player who is interchangeable with Forte, whose 166-yard effort last week boosted his average per carry to 4.2 yards after a very slow start.
"We have two good players we feel comfortable with," Smith said. "Matt is our starter, but we feel comfortable putting Chester in. He's a good player. Last week, I liked the way the reps ended up coming out. (Forte had 22 carries; Taylor 18.) They both have things that are strengths for them, but they can both do everything. It's not like one of them is only a pass catcher and one is a rusher. They both are complete running backs, and that's what we like." ...
From a nationally-televised embarrassment at the New Meadowlands Stadium, where they literally, at least in Cutler's case, had to be peeled off the field turf, the Bears have, in just one week, ascended to the driver's seat in the NFC North.
At 4-1, they're a game ahead of the Packers, who have been decimated by injuries, and they're 2 1/2 games ahead of the Vikings, who have dug themselves a 1-3 hole and are not finished dealing with the off-the-field distraction of Brett Favre's "Textgate."
Quicker than you can say, "playoff contender," the Bears have control in the NFC North, and their position should only be strengthened over the next four weeks. They have home games against the mediocre Seahawks and Redskins, a bye and a road game against the winless Bills, which really isn't even a home game for them because it will be played in Toronto.
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