Bears Beat Chargers, Lose Cutler
By Benjy Lipsman in News on Nov 21, 2011 4:00PM
The Bears ran their winning streak to five games yesterday with a 31-20 victory over the San Diego Chargers. But the win proved costly as Jay Cutler broke the thumb on his throwing hand and is done for the regular season. Bears fans had lots of reasons for optimism as the Monsters of the Midway ran their record to 7-3, but those sentiments quickly turned Sunday evening as news broke about Cutler's thumb injury.
The Bears and Chargers traded first quarter field goals before the Bears offense got going in the second quarter. While a penalty brought back a Devin Hester punt return from the Chargers 11 yard line to near mid-field, it still set up the Bears to strike quickly. Marion Barber punched the ball into the end zone to cap a five-play drive and give the Bears their first lead of the day. San Diego stormed right back, with Philip Rivers finding Anonio Gates in the end zone to even the score. But Jay Cutler and the Bears' offense only needed two minutes to add another seven points. Johnny Knox returned the ensuing kickoff 53 yards to establish excellent field position. Cutler then connected with Earl Bennett on a long pass to set up the Bears in the red zone. A Bennett touchdown catch was overturned on review, but a penalty on the play gave the Bears a fresh set of downs inside the five and Cutler found Kellen Davis in the end zone to give the Bears a 17-10 advantage at halftime.
The Chargers would not go away, knotting the game at 17 on a drive punctuated by Phillip Rivers connecting with Vincent Jackson for 47 yards, followed by a Bears pass interference penalty inside the red zone, to set up a Jackson five-yard TD catch from Rivers.
The Bears finally took the lead for good on the ensuing possession. Cutler hit Roy Williams on three straight passes before a bomb to Knox set the Bears up at the one yard line. Cutler kept the ball himself, squeezing over the goal line for a touchdown. On the Chargers' first play following the Cutler TD, Charles Tillman forced and recovered a fumble. Two passes later, Cutler connected with Knox for a 24-yard TD that put the Bears ahead 31-17.
The Chargers continued to fight, adding a field goal and then picking off Cutler when Knox slipped on his route. It was chasing down San Diego's Antoine Cason to help prevent a touchdown that Cutler suffered his broken thumb. Major Wright picked off Rivers in the end zone to prevent the Chargers from closing the gap, and the Bears held on for the eleven-point victory. Cutler remained in the game despite the apparently serious injury, which made the news all the more surprising when the story broke hours after the game ended.
Cutler finished the afternoon 18 for 31 for 286 yards, two touchdowns and the one interception. He spread the ball around, with Knox catching three passes for 97 yards, hitting Bennett three times for 75 yards and Williams five times for 62 yards. On the ground, Matt Forte managed a quiet 57 yards on 21 carries. But that was more than enough offense as special teams continually gave the offense excellent field possession and the defense caused a number of key turnovers.
Cutler will be evaluated this morning and may require surgery on his thumb. He is expected to miss six to eight weeks. With six weeks left to the regular season, it's possible he could return for the playoffs. But Caleb Hanie has to lead the team well enough to get the Bears into the playoffs.
With a 7-3 mark and a fairly easy schedule to close out the season, it's not impossible. Offensive Coordinator Mike Martz made it to a Super Bowl in St. Louis after losing his starting QB early in the 1999 season and the Rams turned Kurt Warner (wait... he's available, isn't he?) into a household name. But as Bears fans, this road bump is especially frustrating as the team was coming together in all phases of the game to look like a legitimate contender in the NFC.