First-and-10: Bears still need Jay Cutler … for now

SHARE First-and-10: Bears still need Jay Cutler … for now

Bears quarterback Matt Barkley (standing tall in face of pressure from Packers linebacker Clay Matthews) complted 6-of-15 passes for 81 yards and two interceptions for an 18.3 passer rating in relief of injured starter Brian Hoyer against the Packers on Thursday night at Lambeau Field. (Mike Roemer/AP)

Jay Cutler or Matt Barkley? Not quite the same quandary for the Bears as Cutler-or-Brian Hoyer.

Just like that, the Bears need Jay Cutler again — funny how it keeps working out that way. Cutler certainly will be the Bears’ starter against the Vikings next Monday night at Soldier Field if he’s healthy after missing five games with a sprained thumb.

But that’s still a big if at this point. Cutler has been doubtful for five consecutive games since suffering the injury against the Eagles in Week 2. If he’s not ready to play against the Vikings — meaning he will go at least eight weeks between starts — the focus again will be on yet another problematic, slow-healing Bears injury: Should Cutler have had surgery on his thumb instead of hoping it would heal itself?

If Cutler isn’t available, Barkley is confident a full week of practice with the first-team offense will have him better prepared than he was against the Packers. But the degree-of-difficulty goes up as well — the Vikings’ defense is reaching an elite level. Since Marcus Mariota threw two touchdown passes against them in Week 1, the Vikings have allowed just three touchdown passes in five weeks, with no quarterback having a rating higher than Aaron Rodgers’ 70.7.

And there’s a difference between having a back-up starter who has been with the team through the offseason program, training camp and the preseason and one who has not — like Barkley. In the last 30 years, the only two Bears quarterbacks to start games after joining the team following the preseason are 2-5 — Josh McCown in 2011 (1-1) and Chad Hutchinson in 2004 (1-4). They do have one thing in common, though: They both beat the Vikings.

“Hopefully some guys [that] are a little banged can rest and get healthy,” Barkley said. “[There’s] a little more time to install a game plan. Thursday is pretty rough to get everything carmmed in within a few days of not being able to practice. That’ll be nice to get a full week and have guys healthy. Hopefully we have as many as we can.”

2. It remains to be seen just how many are available. As Year 2 of the Ryan Pace/John Fox regime becomes a bigger and bigger disappointment, the issue always seems to come back to injuries. Pernell McPhee barely beat Kyle Schwarber back on the field. Guard Josh Sitton, who had playing streaks of 59 and 75 consecutive games with the Packers, lasted all of six games with the Bears before missing Thursday night’s game against his former teammates.

Kyle Long, who was battling through a shoulder injury, now has an arm injury. Cornerback Bryce Callahan suffered a hamstring injury for the third consecutive game — he played only 16 defensive snaps against the Packers. If the Bears don’t think they have an injury issue, they better hope their luck changes. They don’t come to rescue you, as John Fox says. But they do come to fire you — and bad luck with injuries often is a culprit.

3. The Vikings’ first loss of the season Sunday against the Eagles probably wasn’t a good development for the Bears. The last time the Vikings lost, they responded with a supreme effort — in a 38-17 victory over the Bears at TCF Bank Stadium in Week 15.

4. The Bears are one of three NFL teams to play three or more quarterbacks this season. The Browns have played an unheard of six through seven games after undrafted rookie Kevin Hogan replaced injured starter Cody Kessler on Sunday against the Bengals. The Patriots have used three — Jimmy Garoppolo, Jacoby Brissett and Tom Brady — but only because Brady was suspended for the first four games.

4a. The Bears made the playoffs three times with three quarterbacks starting at least one game in 1984, 1986 and 1988. In fact, they reached the NFC Championship Game with five quarterbacks starting at least one game in 1984: Jim McMahon (9), Steve Fuller (4), Bob Avellini (1), Rusty Lisch (1) and Greg Landry (1). And Walter Payton played an entire series at quarterback during a two-minute drill against the Packers that season.

But since the Mike Ditka era, the Bears have never made the playoffs with more than two quarterbacks starting at least one game.

4b. The only Bears quarterbacks to start 16 games since Vince Evans in 1981: Jim Harbaugh (1991), Eric Kramer (1995), Rex Grossman (2006) and Jay Cutler (2009).

5. Rookie linebacker Leonard Floyd’s strip-sack of Aaron Rodgers and fumble recovery in the end zone for a touchdown was a ray of hope for Ryan Pace and the Bears. Floyd had a sack earlier in the game and also had Rodgers in the grasp to force an incompletion on the Packers’ first series.

Floyd’s big play was the Bears’ first defensive touchdown since Week 3 of the 2014 season — safety Ryan Mundy’s 45-yard interception return against the Jets at the Meadowlands. The Bears and Jets were the only NFL teams that did not have a defensive touchdown last season. (The Jets still haven’t had one since Week 7 of the 2013 season).

5a. Unsung hero: Sherrick McManis had a nifty solo tackle of Jeff Janis on a kickoff return at the Packers 15 that set up Floyd’s strip-sack/touchdown. McManis had two tackles on special teams against the Packers and leads the Bears with five this season.

6. Overshadowed by the Bears’ demise in the second half against the Packers was an impressive performance by Vic Fangio’s defense in the first half. The Bears held the Packers to two field goals — only the second time in 17 games against Rodgers that the Bears had held the Packers without a touchdown in the first half; and the first time since 2011.

This illustrates their success even better: Rodgers took seven consecutive shots at the end zone and did not score (plus the fourth-down stuff of Ty Montgomery at the goal line) — before finally connecting with Davante Adams, who beat third-string cornerback De’Vante Bausby for the touchdown in the third quarter.

Going back to last season’s upset of the Packers at Lambeau, the Bears had stopped Rodgers on 11 consecutive shots at the end zone. Prior to that, Rodgers had thrown 22 touchdowns in the red zone (with one interception) against the Bears.

6a. Since Matthew Stafford was stifled by the Bears in Week 4 — a 56.8 rating on 23-of-36, 213 yards, no touchdowns, two interceptions — the Lions quarterback has a 127.4 passer rating (eight touchdowns, no interceptions) in victories over the Eagles, Rams and Redskins.

Stafford’s 113.9 rating against the rest of the league (15 touchdowns, two interceptions) is nearly double his rating vs. the Bears.

7. The Bears committed 10 penalties for the third consecutive game — for 108 yards against the Packers, including a 44-yard pass-interference penalty against safety Adrian Amos. Matt Barkley said an official acknowledgedan error in failing to re-start the play-clock, which led to a delay-of-game penalty. But even without that, the Bears still had nine penalties for 103 yards

After committing four penalties for 30 yards in the opener against the Texans, the Bears have committed 51 penalties for 435 yards in six games. Five of the Bears’ 10 penalties against the Packers were on players seeing extensive action for the first time in awhile: cornerback De’Vante Bausby (three), guard Ted Larsen and Barkley.

8. If the Cubs beat the Indians in four or five games, they’ll be the first Chicago team to win a major-sport championship at Wrigley Field since the Bears won the NFL title in 1963. The Bears also won NFL championships at Wrigley Field in 1933, 1941 and 1943.

9. Ex-Bears Player of the Week:Buccaneers running back Jacquizz Rodgers suddenly has the hot hand — Rodgers gained a career-high 154 yards on 26 carries (5.9 avg.) in the Buccaneers’ 34-17 victory over the 49ers on Sunday — a week after rushing for 101 yards on 30 carries in a victory over the Panthers. Prior to last week, the diminutive Rodgers had never rushed for more than 86 yards in a game and was averaging 17.3 yards in 71 NFL games in his four-year career.

Rodgers rushed for 41 yards on 14 carries (2.9 avg.) in five games last year and was a valuable special-teams player before suffering a broken arm against the Chiefs. The Bears released him in the cut-down to 53 players after he rushed for 28 yards on 17 carries (1.6 avg.) in the preseason.

9b. Special mention:  Dolphins right guard Jermon Bushrod is settling in at a new position with a new team — playing a key role in the Dolphins’ sudden run-game explosion — led by Jay Ajayi (28-214, one touchdown), the Dolphins rushed for 256 yards on 41 carries (6.2 avg.) in a 28-25 victory at home over the Bills.

The Dolphins have rushed for an averaged of 239 yards per game the last two weeks after averaging 72.4 rushing yards in the first five weeks of the season.

9c. Honorable mention: Jets running back Matt Forte gained 154 total yards (30-100 rushing, 4-54 receiving) with two touchdowns — one rushing, one receiving — in the Jets’ 24-16 victory over the Ravens. 

10. Bear-ometer: 4-12 —vs. Vikings (L); at Buccaneers (W); at Giants (L); vs. Titans (W); vs. 49ers (W); at Lions (L); vs. Packers (L); vs. Redskins (L); at Vikings (L).

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