Brian Hoyer was good, but Jay Cutler beats the Colts
INDIANAPOLIS — Alshon Jeffery erupted with frustration. He grabbed his helmet, glanced back toward his quarterback and raised his arms.
It was a “Hey, I was open!” look.
And then came Jeffery’s “Hey, we just lost — again” moment.
After quarterback Brian Hoyer’s fourth-and-eight pass to wide receiver Cam Meredith fell incomplete in the last minute, Jeffery took off his helmet and slowly strolled through the end zone back to the Bears’ sideline.
It embodied the Bears’ state of affairs. Even the stars aren’t shining anymore.
The Bears are 1-4 after losing to a very beatable Colts team, which held on for a messy 29-23 victory Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium. Since 1990, teams that start 1-4 have a 6.3 percent chance of advancing to the postseason.
And as efficient as Hoyer has been, it’s fair to wonder whether Jay Cutler would’ve been the difference in Indianapolis, whether he would’ve salvaged their season for a little longer. Hoyer can keep the Bears in games, but Cutler can win them.
Cutler, for all his faults, would have at least looked at Jeffery, his favorite target, in that game-defining situation. Hoyer didn’t. Despite good protection, Hoyer only eyed the options to his right, Meredith and veteran Eddie Royal.
The Colts did disguise their coverage. Jeffery said he read two-man coverage with safety Mike Adams moving his way. Hoyer was convinced that Jeffery would be double-teamed.
“I thought there was no way they wouldn’t do it,” Hoyer said.
But Jeffery was left one-on-one against cornerback Vontae Davis, and he beat him. Adams broke to the middle to cut off other routes.
“[It’s] a play you’d like to have back,” said Hoyer, who saw a photo of the failed play afterward.
Again, it’s a play that screams for the return of Cutler, if only because he would’ve made sure to look at his star receiver.
“All I know is that we didn’t win the game,” said Jeffery, who has been targeted only 18 times the last three games with Hoyer.
“I’m not concerned about who gets me the ball more or none of that. We didn’t win the game. That’s all that matters.”
But the Bears’ loss was littered with examples of why Cutler’s absence matters. The Bears compiled 522 yards of total offense — their most since 1989 — but they found the end zone only twice against a porous defense.
“We did some good things,” coach John Fox said, “but not quite enough good things.”
“Close doesn’t count,” said Hoyer, who was 33-for-43 for 397 yards, two touchdowns and a 120.0 passer rating.
Hoyer’s production shouldn’t be overlooked. He has entered Josh McCown territory by throwing for 1,016 yards and six touchdowns in his three starts.
But the Bears are 1-2 in Hoyer’s games. Some context is required, too. Hoyer’s production has come against defenses that were ranked 18th, 21st and 24th in the league at the time he played against them. The Colts’ performance didn’t improve their ranking, either.
The Bears’ offensive line also is markedly better than it was in the early going for Cutler. A hard-nosed run game has been established behind rookie Jordan Howard, who had 118 yards on 16 carries. Hoyer also wasn’t sacked by the Colts.
Hoyer’s best attribute has been ball security. He hasn’t turned it over. It’s the main reason he has Fox’s backing. But it conveniently has been forgotten that Cutler protected the ball well and ran an efficient offense for most of last season, too.
Still, there is no quarterback controversy if there is only one of them. Cutler can’t grip and throw a football because of his sprained right thumb. He had a brace back on his right hand.
“I’m not going to get into speculation,” Fox said. “Jay’s not healthy.”
At this point, though, it doesn’t matter if Cutler returns next week or much later. More than ever, this season has become about next year and beyond. It’s about development. But what is there to develop with Hoyer or Cutler at quarterback?
What is there for fans — especially those who drowned out Colts fans with their “Let’s go, Bears” chants — to look forward to?
Fox and his players will point to effort and fight.
“Our guys were battling,” Fox said. “We have a lot of those strong character guys who continue to compete.”
But it’s a hollow message outside the locker room when fourth-down plays fail, the losses mount and the playoffs are a dream.