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Disappointing end for Jay Cutler’s run with Bears

It’s appropriate, isn’t it, that this Sunday is the shortest, darkest day of the year?

The winter solstice will help put a quick-dim cap on the Jay Cutler Era as the Bears’ starting quarterback. Because it’s over.

Career fringe-lingerer Jimmy Clausen was announced Thursday as the Bears’ starter Sunday against the Detroit Lions and their No. 2-ranked defense at Soldier Field. This ends Cutler’s string of 81 consecutive starts for the Bears in games in which he has been healthy enough to play. Going back to his days with the Denver Broncos, he has started all 118 games in which he has played.

The 31-year-old quarterback has never once come off the bench, living life as the No. 1 guy, the big cheese.

It has been a long era in Chicago, this Cutler thing. It has been a half-dozen years filled with hope, projection, desperation, anger and, ultimately, failure. If you’re a Bears fan, it’s not wrong to say it hurts.

The switch was made ‘‘in the best interest of our football team,’’ coach Marc Trestman said at Halas Hall. He added, ‘‘I think we need a spark.’’

Sitting in the media room, my first thought was a spark might ignite the foul gas lingering over the whole organization and blow this cement bunker to smithereens.

In truth, a wafting mushroom cloud would be a fitting image for the final photo of this odd, leaderless 5-9 team that once had Super Bowl aspirations.

With the Lions coming to town on a three-game winning streak, with savage Ndamukong Suh leading a terrifying defense, one prays for Clausen’s health. The guy hasn’t started an NFL game in four years. He isn’t particularly fast, mobile, strong-armed or accurate.

And yet he’s replacing the highest-paid quarterback in the NFL this season, a man who has thrown for the most touchdowns of his career (28) and who is — astoundingly for this late in a season — uninjured.

Who blew it?

First, obviously, is Cutler himself. The once-surly man has softened over the years, becoming a family man who, at least in meetings with the media, now answers questions with more than a smirk. He even smiles on occasion. And he has been the one person in recent days who hasn’t said something crazy, mean, bizarre or demeaning about someone else.

This is ironic because Cutler’s failure afield has led back to an immature, undisciplined field presence. With those 28 touchdown passes have come 18 interceptions and six lost fumbles, the most turnovers by anybody in the NFL.

He also has led the Bears to the playoffs only once — in 2010. There, they defeated the Seattle Seahawks before losing to the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship Game. In that game, Cutler had a 31.8 passer rating before hurting his knee and standing, blank-faced, on the sideline for the second half.

The blank face helped do him in. It became his signature look, a non-expression that said, ‘‘I don’t care,’’ even if he really did.

It was funny that national-TV analyst Jon Gruden seemed to notice Cutler’s on-field persona for the first time in the Bears’ pitiful loss Monday to the then-5-8 New Orleans Saints. But I still can hear Mike Martz saying on the NFL Network, ‘‘He just doesn’t get it.’’ And Jim Mora saying Cutler looked ‘‘completely immature.’’ That was 2009.

Even former Bears coach Mike Ditka piled on after that loss to the Packers.

‘‘Myself, I would have to have been paralyzed to come out of the game,’’ Da Coach said.

But who brought Cutler to town? That was departed general manager Jerry Angelo.

More important, who signed Cutler to a mammoth $126 million extension last January? That would be GM Phil Emery, who also brought in the seemingly overmatched Trestman.

But who knew this complete disaster was in the offing? Cutler had a decent season in 2013, and Trestman, a former quarterback himself, only was going to help Cutler keep improving. The tools were there. The offensive players were there.

And then? Nothing. Just a mopey, listless, turnover-laden attack.

No, all those sacks weren’t Cutler’s fault. And how about a defense that gives up the most points in the league? Blame abounds.

But how weird is it that Cutler, statistically, is the best quarterback the Bears have had in their history? He ranks first in almost every stat kept for quarterbacks, from passer rating (84.4) to total yards (18,553) to completion percentage (61.4). But not victories.

The experiment is over. The dark days of the quarterback hunt — the days of Rick Mirer, Steve Stenstrom, Moses Moreno, Craig Krenzel, Rex Grossman, et al. — seem nigh.

Oh, boy. As new guy Clausen said, ‘‘I didn’t see it coming at all.’’