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Bears clear QB Jay Cutler for Vikings game, put Brian Hoyer on IR

The Bears have cleared Jay Cutler to practice. (AP)

Whether Jay Cutler’s return was purely good fortune or the direct result of Brian Hoyer breaking his left arm Thursday night in Green Bay, it’s here nonetheless.

Bears coach John Fox said Cutler — who he maintained Monday was his starting quarterback all along, after five weeks of saying anything but — was cleared by medical staffers over the weekend. Cutler, who left the Bears’ loss Sept. 19 with strained ligaments in his right thumb, texted his teammates the news.

“Jay Cutler being one of the reasons why I signed to the Chicago Bears, knowing that he has a winning personality and a great arm to back it up,” defensive end Akiem Hicks said. “I look forward to him being back on the field.”

While the timing of his return seems awfully coincidental, Fox stressed that Cutler’s return was consistent with his four-to-six-week recovery timeline. The Vikings game would mark six weeks to the day that he left the home loss to the Eagles in the third quarter. Sources told the Sun-Times, though, that Cutler first felt pain in the season-opener and tried to play through it the next week.

Cutler will return to practice Tuesday and should benefit from an extra practice day leading up to the Monday night contest against the Vikings at Soldier Field. He’ll need it: Cutler was extremely limited in one practice nine days after suffering the injury, but otherwise hadn’t practiced before, and hasn’t since.

“I think he’s been at the bit for a while,” Fox said. “I think anytime you can’t play, as a competitor as a player, obviously that’s hard, and I think he handled it great.

“He was very involved in the game-planning both with (offensive coordinator) Dowell (Loggains) and Brian. Through this process he’s been very helpful and been a great teammate and member of the team.”

Hoyer was placed on injured reserve Monday, one day after undergoing surgery on his broken left arm. He completed 134-for-200 passes for 1,445 yards, six touchdowns and no interceptions in Cutler’s place; Cutler was 28-for-46 for 373 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions before the injury.

The Bears were only 1-4 in games Hoyer started, though, and are currently tied for last in the NFL with 1.4 offensive touchdowns per game. They totaled three offensive touchdowns in Hoyer’s last three games; by contrast, they scored three in Cutler’s six-plus quarters this season.

The IR trip will probably end Hoyer’s season. While he could return to practice in six weeks and games in eight, he’d have to leapfrog both receiver Kevin White (leg) and cornerback Kyle Fuller (knee). The Bears can only bring one player back from IR each season, and both are former first-round picks whose contracts, unlike Hoyer’s, extend beyond this season.

The Bears are still looking at signing a third quarterback to play on the practice squad and provide insurance behind second-stringer Matt Barkley, who went 6-for-15 for 81 yards and two interceptions against the Packers.

“It could be important to have a third guy, especially because we’ve been through three already,” Fox said.

The Bears hope that number won’t go up anytime soon.

“Whichever’s back there, we’re going to try and do our best to protect them and do our thing on the run,” center Cody Whitehair said. “But you know, it is nice to have him back.

“He’s been a leader on the sideline even while he wasn’t playing. And it’ll be nice to have him back out there.”