LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler said Wednesday he'd "want to play next week if they let me," but admitted that because of the uncertainty of how long it will take his broken right thumb to heal that "it could be (that) I'm done for the season."
Meeting with reporters for the first time since undergoing surgery Nov. 23 in Vail, Colo., Cutler said he didn't want to put a specific date on his return because of all of the variables concerning the recovery process.
During Cutler's surgery, doctors inserted three screws and two pins to stabilize the right thumb. Cutler disclosed that depending on how fast he heals, the pins could be removed "anytime after three weeks, (but they could stay) up to 10 weeks." The screws would remain.
"So it's just a matter of if they're not hindering me being able to throw the ball, (whether) I'm comfortable with them, if they're not pinching," Cutler said. "There's a lot of factors."
Bears general manager Jerry Angelo and coach Lovie Smith both have said they're optimistic Cutler could return before the end of the regular season. But sources told ESPNChicago.com on the night of Cutler's injury that he likely would be out at minimum the remainder of the regular season.
"After the game, we took the X-ray, and they told me right away it was a Bennett's fracture, and surgery is going to be required and I'm probably done," Cutler said Wednesday on "The Waddle & Silvy Show" on ESPN 1000. "So doing that press conference (after the game) was tough.
"It was a devastating time. These things happen. It's football. All I can do now is get back as quickly as possible."
But Cutler didn't want to predict that he could return this season, even for the playoffs.
"I don't want to say it, because I don't want to jinx it," he said on ESPN 1000. "I don't want to get people excited.
"We're going to take it week by week. We're going to see how it goes. I feel good about it, but you never know what's going to happen. I don't know how this thing is going to heal. I don't know if it's going to heal in time. I don't know what's going to happen, but I'm going to do the best I can, I know that."
The most important factors for Cutler to ponder are the long-term ramifications associated with coming back too soon because rushing into action could put him at risk for further damage, thus potentially jeopardizing his career.
"I want to play in Denver (on Dec. 11), I want to play this week, I want to play in the Seattle game," he said. "But at the same time, this is only my sixth year, hopefully I'll have a lot of football left in Chicago. So I want to be smart about this.
"I know we're in a playoff race, and I know each game is vital to us getting there. I want to be there for my team and help as much as possible. So at the end of the day, that's going to win out. I'm going to play as soon as they let me play."
Cutler started rehabilitation this week, and Angelo told the team's official website Wednesday that "nothing has changed with his timetable, but our focus right now as a football team is on (backup quarterback) Caleb (Hanie). That has to be our mentality."
Hanie started in Cutler's place Sunday when the club fell 25-20 at Oakland, and threw three interceptions and a pair of touchdown passes. Hanie said after the game that Cutler served as a calming influence, allowing the backup to bounce back from three first-half interceptions to nearly rally the Bears to the victory.
As for Cutler's recovery, he expects to lose some flexibility in the thumb initially. Cutler said his doctor was "very careful where he was pinning and where he was putting the screws," which should increase the chances for him throwing the football without any complications or setbacks.
Cutler said he initially didn't know the bone was broken, in part because he "was pissed at (receiver) Johnny (Knox) about the pick. So coming off the field, I didn't really notice."
"I was more worried about talking to (Knox) in a calm manner," Cutler said jokingly. "After I settled down and went back on the field, I knew there was something definitely wrong and it was kind of serious. It was really uncomfortable, but it was something I was able to fight through and keep playing. Playing a whole game like that would have been a problem."
With the procedure out of the way, Cutler said doctors will continue to take X-rays and CT scans on his thumb during the next several weeks to "see if the bone's healing like it should be."
In the meantime, Cutler said that becoming a spectator has been difficult.
Cutler missed six quarters in 2010 after suffering a concussion against the New York Giants, and was forced out of the second half of NFC Championship Game because of a sprained knee.
"I don't like this. I don't like coming to meetings. I don't like watching practice. I don't like any of this," Cutler said. "This is not what I signed up for. This is not anything I've really been a part of. So it's definitely hard on me."
Michael C. Wright covers the Bears for ESPNChicago.com and ESPN 1000.