Bears' hopes take hit without Cutler

@TEXT:
Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler (6) hands off to Matt Forte (22) in the second half of...

@TEXT: Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler (6) hands off to Matt Forte (22) in the second half of their NFL football game against the San Diego Chargers in Chicago, Illinois November 20, 2011. Cutler broke his thumb during the game and is expected to be out 6-8 weeks after surgery. (REUTERS/Jeff Haynes)

MIKE GANTER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 6:53 PM ET

Winners of five in a row and looking to everyone like a team gearing up for another NFC showdown with the Green Bay Packers (or possibly the San Francisco 49ers), the Chicago Bears are now anything but a certainty.

Jay Cutler is gone for at least the next handful of games if not the season and with him goes the Bears best chance at beating either of the other two NFC powers.

With Cutler’s strong throwing arm, opposing defences could not just stack the box and swarm Matt Forte at will. Cutler’s receiving corps isn’t exactly a who’s who of the NFL, but he had steady, dependable receivers with enough speed that defences had to respect them.

Cutler was the reason those receivers were as good as they were.

His replacement, Caleb Hanie, while mobile is not the above-average passer that Cutler is.

Even so the Bears believe they can pick up where they left off.

Head coach Lovie Smith told a Chicago radio station on Monday that he expects the offence to do exactly what it had been doing before Cutler got hurt.

That may be a tall order.

But what the Bears do have is a stout defence and the ever-exciting special teams player extraordinaire Devin Hester.

They also have Matt Forte at running back but without Cutler under centre, he’s going to get a lot more attention focussed on him by opposing defences.

The Bears do round out the regular season with a fairly easy schedule with a game at Green Bay on Christmas day and this weekend’s game in Oakland the only two against teams with winning records.

The hope is that Cutler can return to the team in time for the playoffs. Until then the onus is going to be on the special teams and defence to keep the Bears playoff hopes alive.

ROOKIE QB CLASS ADDITION

Jake Locker certainly looked like he was ready to become the fifth signal caller from the 2011 draft class to become a starter.

Andy Dalton and Cam Newton were there from Day 1. Blaine Gabbert and Christian Ponder took over their respective teams a few games into the season.

Locker, who has been learning the position under Matt Hasselbeck in Tennessee, made a statement regarding his readiness when he came in during the third quarter after Hasselbeck had sprained his elbow.

All Locker did was throw for a pair of touchdowns and almost get the Titans a win in a game in which they had trailed 23-3.

Locker finished the afternoon completing nine of 19 passes for 140 yards and the two TD’s.

Head coach Mike Munchak nipped any starting quarterback controversy in the bud when the question about Locker’s status going forward was raised.

“If Matt’s fine, he’s our quarterback,” Munchak said. “There’s no doubt about that.”

Word Monday via ESPN is that Hasselbeck’s elbow is indeed “fine” and he is likely to play this Sunday.

KICKER HUMOUR

Kickers in professional football have to have a good sense of humour. It helps them deal with all the shots they take from teammates about their particular job. Mat McBriar is the Dallas punter. He’s a former Aussie Rules Football player. In Sunday’s game against the Redskins, McBriar had to make a touchdown-saving tackle. McBriar though didn’t think tackle was the right word for what he did. “It was just sort of a lunge: ‘Please go out of bounds, little fella,’” he said.

AROUND THE LEAGUE

Looking for a little insurance for Matt Leinart this weekend with Matt Shaub out of the picture, the Texans flew in a boatload of options. Among those in for a tryout were former Calgary Stampeder Jeff Garcia, Brodie Croyle, Trent Edwards and Kellen Clemens ... Looks like the Minnesota Vikings are going to have to get by without their No. 1 offensive threat for at least a week. Running back Adrian Peterson has a high ankle sprain and will miss, at minimum, Sunday’s game against Atlanta ... Finally the Kansas City Chiefs have confirmed the worst secret of the week: Quarterback Matt Cassel has a broken right hand. While the team is not saying he is done for the year, everything suggests that is the case. Tyler Palko has the starting job for now ... Rex Ryan now knows the cost of telling a fan to shut the bleep up. The exchange, which occurred at half time as an upset Ryan was walking to the locker room during a game with the Patriots, cost Ryan $75,000. As a second time offender, the punishment was a little steeper this time around ... A week off has not taken the sting out of Pittsburgh Stealers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s broken right thumb. But it also hasn’t lessened his resolve to play through the pain. Roethlisberger took part in practice Monday although he worked out of the shotgun saving his thumb from having to take any snaps from centre Mike Pouncey. Roethlisberger said he fully expects to play on Sunday when the Steelers take on Kansas City ... This is why head coaches coach and linebackers play. Brian Urlacher suggested early Monday that perhaps the Bears could go the Tebow route with Caleb Hanie and make optimum use of Hanie’s athleticism. Smith took all of 12 seconds before he put that one to rest. The coach, who sees the same short-term gain approach to the Tebow style of football, said the Bears will stick with the same offence Cutler played in.


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