Bears should be cautious with QBs

CHICAGO -- Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler returned to action a week sooner than the original doctor-prescribed four-week minimum timetable for recovery from a torn muscle in his groin Sunday during a 21-19 loss to the Detroit Lions.

Now the Bears need to proceed cautiously with regard to how they’ll bring along Cutler in the coming weeks as the race for the NFC playoffs intensifies. Bottom line: if there’s even the slightest bit of concern on the team’s part about whether an injured Cutler might hurt the Bears more than he’d help by playing before he’s truly ready to go, the club shouldn’t hesitate to go with Josh McCown, who has proven plenty capable of filling in during a pinch.

“Jay 80 percent is better than a lot of guys at 100 percent in the NFL,” receiver Brandon Marshall said.

That’s probably true most days. But whatever percentage Cutler operated at late in Sunday’s game in terms of health, he probably couldn’t have provided more than what a healthy McCown gave the Bears down the stretch against the Lions. What’s more, Cutler is now dealing with a groin issue and an ankle injury on the same leg.

So depending on the severity of Cutler’s left ankle, which will be evaluated Monday, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to rest him a week, which is probably what the Bears should have done instead of playing him Sunday against the Lions.

Cutler put himself through a strenuous regimen to return early, but all the effort might prove to be wasted. Almost immediately after meeting with doctors when Cutler suffered the groin injury, Bears coach Marc Trestman and general manager Phil Emery said repeatedly they’d wait four weeks minimum, then evaluate the quarterback on a week-to-week basis before he’d return to the field.

The quarterback’s rehab routine included use of an Accelerated Recovery Performance (ARP) machine, Platelet-Rich Plasma (PRP) shots, and chiropractic sessions to speed the healing process. Another week taking part in such an aggressive rehabilitation program would only have helped Cutler.

“It held up OK,” Cutler said of the injured groin muscle. “It’s all in the same leg. I think that was the problem. With the groin, if you take the ankle out of the equation, I would have been fine I think.”

Now, instead of one, Cutler has two injuries to manage. And this is the time of year the Bears need him in the lineup most. Chicago plays four of its next six games on the road, with five of those coming against NFC opponents, which means those contests will be important for the late-season postseason push.

“The trainers felt he was good to go and there wouldn’t be a situation where he could hurt himself any more,” Trestman said. “I would not have wanted to have him in there if I thought, or our trainers thought, he could hurt himself any more.”

But that’s exactly what Cutler did, and it affected his performance. Cutler completed 12 of 18 in the first half for 148 yards and a touchdown. Limping and staggering through the third and most of the fourth quarter, Cutler hit on just 9 of 22 for 102 yards, to finish the game with a passer rating of 69.8.

Cutler and the team say he didn’t reinjure the groin muscle. But there were multiple occasions Cutler appeared to be in severe discomfort in that area.

“I thought coming into this I might aggravate my groin. We’d have to fight through that,” Cutler said. “I never thought I would roll my ankle on the same side and have to fight through that, and that would ultimately be the one that would knock me out of this game. It’s football. We only get 16 games. So I’m just going to try to get back as fast as (I) can.”

Perhaps that’s what got Cutler into trouble Sunday against the Lions.