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Bears: Discretion or valor in bringing Cutler back?

Jay Cutler

Jay Cutler

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Updated: December 14, 2012 6:24AM



Bears coach Lovie Smith confirmed Jay Cutler likely suffered a concussion when Houston Texans linebacker Tim Dobbins drilled him in the facemask and knocked him to the ground in the second quarter Sunday night.

So why did Cutler take seven more snaps before being taken out of the game at halftime?

‘‘It is a little troublesome that he stayed in for seven more plays,’’ said Dr. Jeffery Mjaanes, the director of the Chicago Sports Concussion Clinic at Rush Medical Center. ‘‘Seven plays is kind of a long time.’’

Then again . . .

‘‘Most people might get in that situation and say, ‘Give me a minute, maybe things will clear up,’ ’’ Mjaanes said. ‘‘And the symptoms may not be apparent right away. Sometimes concussions can develop over several hours.

‘‘It’s really possible that at the beginning he didn’t feel too much was wrong. The good news is he did come out eventually. I think the Bears did the right thing by evaluating him early and then keeping him out. And they’re doing the right thing by allowing him to rest and get better.’’

If the Bears are as diligent about going ‘‘beyond protocol’’ as Smith says they are regarding Cutler’s latest injury — ‘‘If we err, it would be as far as keeping players out longer,’’ he said — it’s unlikely Cutler will play on the road Monday against the San Francisco 49ers.

Though Smith reported Cutler was feeling better by the end of the game and feeling ‘‘a lot better’’ Monday, the strict regimen of the ‘‘return-to-play protocol’’ the NFL updated and re-emphasized in 2009 makes Cutler’s return against the 49ers an almost inherent risk. According to Mjaanes, most concucssions take seven to 10 days to heal.

‘‘Part of the issue is that we need all of his symptoms to go away,’’ said Mjaanes, who is a physician for sports teams ranging from Simeon to De Paul to U.S. Soccer.

‘‘Let’s say his symptoms resolve next Saturday. He still needs to kind of go through a couple of days of a process to make sure that he develops no symptoms with mild exercise. It’s not like your symptoms go away and you can go back the next day. There’s a whole protocol in place that is set up to make sure that he is fine at rest but also fine with exercise before he can go into a game.’’

Given the protocol, Cutler’s history of struggling after injuries of any kind and the obvious work backup Jason Campbell needs with the first-team offense in case he has to start, it would seem prudent for the Bears to give Cutler a week to rest instead of subjecting him to a 49ers defense that has 12 quarterback hits in its last two games.

Considering Cutler’s recent injury history — this is the fourth time in his last 20 starts he has been hurt in a game — it probably would be beneficial for Campbell to prepare for and start against a playoff-caliber team on the road.

Smith, though, said ‘‘you can’t doom and gloom’’ and anticipate the next time Cutler will get hurt.

‘‘You have to get the guys ready that will give you the best chance, and that’s going to be the starter,’’ Smith said. ‘‘If we could look into the future, then maybe you would (give the backup more first-team preparation). But that’s just not how it’s done.’’

Reality, though, is having its say in the matter and can’t be ignored forever: Cutler was on the sidelines at the end of the 2010 and 2011 seasons, and he has suffered his second injury of the 2012 season seven weeks before the playoffs begin.

The injury to Cutler obscured the other big issue facing the Bears entering their game against the 49ers: Even when he was healthy, Cutler wasn’t very good Sunday against the Texans. His passer rating was a season-low 16.7. Cutler’s league-worst first-quarter passer rating dropped to 35.7. In games that are within 10 points either way, his passer rating is 59.1. (When the Bears are leading or trailing by 10 or more points, it’s 117.9.)

‘‘It’s one of the best teams in the NFL we played against,’’ Smith said. ‘‘We’ll just keep working on it. That’s all I can say. Eventually, it will come.’’

That’s offensive coordinator Mike Tice’s problem, anyway. But managing the quarterback situation is Smith’s job. Who knows how much is riding on his ability to handle it?



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