EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The only certainty about the concussion that knocked Bears QB Jay Cutler out of commission in Sunday's 17-3 loss to the Giants seems to be the ambiguity cast on his timetable for a return.
Bears coach Lovie Smith gave the standard response of positivity when asked if Cutler could rejoin the club in time for next Sunday's game against the Carolina Panthers. Yet the league's policies on how teams handle head injuries could put a damper on that optimism.
"If he's healthy and ready to go, of course he'll be back out there like all of them will," Smith said after the game.
The Bears, however, won't make that determination on their own.
The NFL implemented stricter guidelines in December, making the return to game action more difficult for players who display concussive symptoms. The guidelines -- issued in a memo by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell -- dictate that players showing concussive symptoms will need to pass a battery of tests and receive clearance from a team doctor, in addition to an independent neurologist, before returning to the field of play.
So, really, it's unclear when Cutler will be sufficiently healed to pass all the required testing for clearance.
The memo also states that a player sustaining a concussion should not return to action on the same day if he continues to display symptoms, which include the inability to remember assignments or plays, a gap in memory, and persistent dizziness and headaches. The league enacted the new guidelines two months after a congressional hearing on head injuries.
Interestingly, Goodell attended Sunday's contest, in which Cutler suffered nine sacks in the first half before the club decided to sit him. Naturally, questions will arise as to when Cutler took the blow that caused the injury.
Prior to leaving the game, Cutler completed 8 of 11 passes for 42 yards and an interception. Led by Osi Umenyiora's three sacks, the Giants dropped the quarterback nine times for a loss of 55 yards. The Giants added a 10th sack in the second half, falling two short of the 2007 record they set with a 12-sack outing against Philadelphia.
Cutler suffered his final sack with 58 seconds left in the half on a corner blitz from Aaron Ross. Cutler didn't appear to want to get off the turf, as a teammate attempted to help him up.
Smith wasn't clear on when the concussion occurred.
"You know, of course sometime in the first half," the coach said when asked when Cutler suffered the concussion. "He took some hits, so it's hard to say exactly when. Right now, I don't have all of that information. But we need to protect him more. You can only take so much, and tonight was a little too much for him."
Under the old concussion standards set in 2007, Cutler would have been able to return because those guidelines stated that a player shouldn't be allowed to re-enter a game if he's lost consciousness. It's not believed that Cutler lost consciousness against the Giants. But the quarterback was clearly out of sorts and disoriented after a few of the hits and sacks, especially the last shot he took from Ross.
Given the beating he'd already taken up to that point, it's worth questioning the play call that placed Cutler in the position to take that final shot with less than a minute remaining before intermission.
"You don't want to see your starting quarterback get hurt," linebacker Brian Urlacher said.
Goodell's memo says players "are to be encouraged to be candid with team medical staffs, and fully disclose any signs or symptoms that may be associated with a concussion." But Cutler may have suffered the concussion as early as the first quarter and kept quiet about it. That's not out of the question, considering Cutler has never missed a game as a pro due to injury and, through four years at Vanderbilt -- where he routinely took a beating -- the quarterback reportedly missed only one practice.
The Bears keep their medical staff off-limits to the media, so it's unlikely there will be many details about the situation, other than what Smith says and what Cutler reveals once he meets with the media.
Cutler will be evaluated with a brain function test called ImPACT (Immediate Post-Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing). The league has required players to establish baseline tests of brain function since 2007.
The computerized testing utilizes memory and recognition exercises to help measure recovery from a concussion. Medical personnel compare the scores from the original baseline test to the one administered after a concussion to make a determination on whether to clear a player.
Center Olin Kreutz said the coaching staff "tried everything" schematically to improve the protection for Cutler.
Yet nothing worked.
"We got beat in every way you can imagine," Kreutz said. "The line just didn't block."
Todd Collins replaced Cutler in the third quarter. The Giants also knocked out Collins with 4:20 left in the fourth quarter after he took a hit from Michael Boley. Caleb Hanie took over for Collins.
In other injury news, the Bears also held out right guard Lance Louis.
Michael C. Wright covers the Bears for ESPNChicago.com and ESPN 1000.