First and 10: Bears coach John Fox ultimate X-factor in QB debate

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John Fox. (AP)

Maybe John Fox isn’t sure.

More likely, he’s just playing coy.

Given another opportunity Monday clarify his starting quarterback situation whenever Jay Cutler returns from a right thumb sprain, Fox said only that he’ll award the job on merit. That would seem to give an edge to Brian Hoyer, who completed 28 of 36 passes for 302 yards and two interceptions in the Bears’ 17-14 win against the Lions on Sunday.

Or maybe Fox is being elusive again.

“I think it’s performance-based,” Fox said. “So anybody that’s performing well, I don’t think we’re going to be likely to change.”

Fox ducked the question last week, but that’s standard operating procedure — he doesn’t publicly pronounce starters at any position. Nationally, some have declared Cutler’s Bears career in jeopardy; Fox analyst Jimmy Johnson speculated Sunday he’d played his last snap for the team.

Make no mistake: Fox wants the situation murky, to try to gain an edge over opponents.

For all the quarterback debate, the coach is the ultimate wild card. He didn’t encounter the scenario in his first year with the Bears, because Jimmy Clausen was so brutal — 9-of-17 for 63 yards — in his only start.

“I think Jay has played a lot of good football,” Fox said Monday. “In fact in the cutups watching Detroit in last year’s two games I thought he played pretty well. “

Fox has navigated changes before. In 2011, Kyle Orton started for the Broncos for the first five games before a 1-4 record forced Fox to promote second-year player Tim Tebow.

“Well, I think 1-4 has a lot to do with it,” Fox said then. “We haven’t gotten it done as a football team. It’s not one guy. It’s not all Kyle Orton’s fault.”

In 2006, Jake Delhomme suffered ligament damage to his right thumb — sound familiar? — and Fox’s Panthers turned to Chris Weinke. Weinke set the franchise record with 423 passing yards against the Giants, but won only one of three games as a starter.

Needing to win their season finale, Fox started Delhomme, who completed 23-of-27 passes for 207 yards and a victory.

2a. How rare was Jordan Howard’s 111-yard game Sunday? It marked the first time since Christmas Day 2011 that a Bear not named Matt Forte ran for triple digits — and only the third time since Christmas Eve 2007. Kahlil Bell and Marion Barber each ran for 100-plus in December 2011.

2b. Despite finishing sixth in rushing attempts as a team last year, the Bears had one 100-yard rusher: Forte in the opener. The last time the Bears had only one such game: 2000, when James Allen — remember him? — had 122 against the Jets.

2c. Howard played 91 percent of the Bears’ snaps Sunday, but that might not happen again. Cutting running back Raheem Mostert on Monday could be a sign running back Ka’Deem Carey’s hamstring is improving.

3. The Bears have fallen short on both their fourth-and-1 attempts this season, botching the snap both times.The failure seems to have Fox re-evaluating whether he’d do it again.

“It’s making some of those decisions harder to make,” Fox said.

Sunday, Hoyer seemed to double clutch the exchange from rookie Cody Whitehair — “We were a little short on the snap,” Fox said, implicating the center — before handing off to Joique Bell for a two-yard loss.

“We didn’t block it very well anyway,” Fox said. “They split every double team we had. It was just not very well executed, not just the snap.”

Only two teams have gone for it on fourth down more than the Bears’ five attempts. Amazingly, though, the Bears have converted only one — Zach Miller’s 2-yard touchdown catch in Dallas.

4. If Kevin White (ankle) and Cutler sit Sunday, the Bears will take the field with only two first-round picks on their active roster: Leonard Floyd and Kyle Long.

“Any time you’re without your front line guys it can be problematic but it doesn’t mean that you’re going to fail,” Fox said. “So you feel a lot better when you’re at full strength.”

5. Andrew Luck had never been sacked six times until Sunday — and now has been sacked 15 games over four games this season. Akiem Hicks played Luck with the Patriots last year and remembers him trying to deliver the ball despite taking big hits.

“There was one point with my previous team where one guy grabbed him and tried to pull him down,” the defensive lineman said. “A second guy jumped on his back, and he’s still driving to get out of the pocket and deliver the ball.

“He’s a tough quarterback and I think he’s also a smart quarterback who wouldn’t take those hits if he wasn’t trying to do something for his offense.”

6. The Colts will be a walking circadian rhythm experiment this week. They turned down the customary bye after Sunday’s game in London and were given Week 10 off instead.

When the Bears beat the Buccaneers in London five years ago, both teams took their byes the next week. So has every single team to play in the International Series since— 18 teams over nine games.

7. The last time, before Sunday, the Bears failed to allow an offensive touchdown: a 28-13 win on Dec. 23, 2012, when the Cardinals’ Justin Bethel returned a blocked field goal 82 yards.

8. Uni watch: The Bears’ win Sunday was their first in the last four tries while wearing their “Monsters of the Midway” throwback set, with orange numbers, a blank navy helmet and gray facemask.

Since the Bears ditched their orange jerseys after the 2011 season, they’ve won the 1940s-era set twice a year — and gone 5-4. They’ll don them again on Halloween.

9. Ex-Bears Player of the Week: Though the Patriots were shut out Sunday by the Bills, tight end Martellus Bennett had five catches for 109 yards, including a 58-yarder. In Week 2, he posted six catches for 114 yards and a score.

Before Week 2, he had only two 100-yard receiving games in his nine-year career — both as a Bear in 2014.

10. Bear-ometer: 5-11— at Colts ( L ); vs. Jaguars ( W ); at Packers ( L ); vs. Vikings ( L ); at Bucs ( L ); at Giants ( L ); vs. Titans( W ); vs. 49ers ( W ); at Lions ( L ); vs. Packers ( L ); vs. Redskins ( W ); at Vikings ( L ).

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