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Loss of Cutler makes for a long Sunday against Arizona

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LAKE FOREST, Ill. — The Chicago Bears offense floundered through preseason and performed inconsistently throughout the first two games due largely to the absence of injured receivers and learning a new scheme.

Now they’ll have to overcome the possible absence of quarterback Jay Cutler due to a pulled hamstring. At the very least, the injury seems likely to cost him practice time as they prepare for a road game at Seattle against the winless Seahawks.

Head coach John Fox on Monday confirmed Cutler strained his hamstring trying to make a tackle on an interception and did not suffer a severe injury like a torn hamstring.

“I think any time it’s not real severe, I think it’s good news,” Fox said. “We’ll just evaluate it going forward.”

More will be known about Cutler’s availability for this week on Wednesday, but Fox said it’s probably more critical for Cutler to practice later in the week than earlier.

“On Wednesdays, probably not as important as later in the week, but you hate to individualize anything,” Fox said. “I’ve seen guys not practice all week and play pretty good on Sundays.”

While Fox didn’t want to venture into a doctor’s role, he did point out he’s coached other quarterbacks who have managed to play hurt.

“It was a little bit of a fluke play for a quarterback, I think,” he said of Cutler’s injury. “We played a guy a week ago that had a calf injury down the stretch (Aaron Rodgers) and I had a guy in Denver (Peyton Manning) that’s probably a first-ballot Hall of Famer that played about six weeks with a similar quad injury, muscle pull type of thing. They happen.

“You don’t like to see any injuries, you like to be at full strength, but reality is it doesn’t happen very often.”

Cutler had been 8-for-8 passing for 120 yards and easily was the driving force in tying the game at 14 before they went down 21-14 Sunday. Then he threw the interception that Tony Jefferson took back 26 yards for a touchdown, leading to the injury.

The Bears and backup Jimmy Clausen responded poorly Sunday to the loss of Cutler, although it’s possible a week of preparation changes that.

“Losing Cutty kind of set us back,” tight end Martellus Bennett said. “Jimmy did a great job coming in and picking up the pace as he got more into the game, but I thought losing Cutty at that point in the game was tough. So, we didn’t get a chance to bounce back from that.”

Clausen went 14-for-23 with an interception for 121 yards and a 56.6 passer rating. He took two sacks and had two passes tipped at the line.

“When your starting quarterback goes down, everyone’s kind of wondering what happened, what’s going on,” Clausen said. “Injuries happen. Whether it’s on defense, special teams or the offensive side, you just have to keep pushing forward.

“I felt the air was deflated a little bit. Guys did a great job just trying to ‘let’s go, let’s go and pick up the tempo a little bit and try to move the chains.'”

Clausen fared better last year when pressed into a start after Cutler got demoted. He went 23-for-39 for 181 yards with a touychdown and interception against Detroit in a 20-14 loss.

“As I mentioned (Sunday), for the circumstances and his preparation reps and getting ready to play Arizona, most backups are not getting all those reps regardless of the position,” Fox said. “I think at the quarterback position it’s a little tougher because you have to be in tune to everybody else completely. But I think all in all he did OK.”

Whether he could make a difference in a road game against the desperate defending NFC champs is the question. With wide receiver Alshon Jeffery out due to a pulled hamstring Sunday, the Bears’ receiver corps remained spotty at best. And nothing is guaranteed in terms of Jeffery’s health this week.

So it will be another week of uncertainty for an offense that needs any edge it can get.

REPORT CARD VS. CARDINALS

–PASSING OFFENSE: D — QB Jay Cutler enjoyed good early success, connecting on his first eight passes. He stepped into throws against a strong rush and hit one to Matt Forte for 27 yards on the run. He even found Josh Bellamy for a 48-yard TD, the first time Bellamy has scored in an NFL game. However, Cutler’s interception and subsequent hamstring pull deprived the offense of its rhythm and Jimmy Clausen looked nothing like the passer who stood in as Cutler’s replacement late last year and gave Detroit a scare in a 20-14 loss.

–RUSHING OFFENSE: C-minus — It was a non-factor with 109 yards on 28 carries. Of Matt Forte’s 61 yards, 27 came on one carry. Early in the game, Jay Cutler’s 24 yards rushing, including two gains on read-option, supplied some comic relief but also kept the Cardinals from loading up too much in the blitz. Jeremy Langford had one strong series and his first career rushing TD, and proved particularly effective slicing outside off the edge.

–PASS DEFENSE: F — Two long pass interference penalties, three touchdown catches by Larry Fitzgerald to match the most ever allowed by the Bears to one player in a game, and Carson Palmer’s four TD passes proved low points. Allowing Palmer 8.8 yards an attempt and a 124.4 rating elevated him to Aaron Rodgers-type status. For the second straight week the Bears went without a sack and once again applied less and less pressure as the game progressed. Shea McClellin continues to have no impact in coverage, although it has to be pointed out he made a good effort to cover a deep route on a flea-flicker TD by Larry Fitzgerald, even if he couldn’t make the play. Even experienced inside linebackers aren’t getting deep downfield with Fitzgerald.

–RUSH DEFENSE: B — Arizona, playing without injured Andre Ellington, only used the run to keep the Bears honest, or to kill the clock late. They had only marginal success with it, as Chris Johnson never broke off a run longer than eight yards and averaged 3.6 per carry. Losing Ego Ferguson to a knee injury prior to the game made them less stout against the run.

–SPECIAL TEAMS: D — For the second straight week, kick coverage proved devastating. This time it was worse than against Green Bay as they allowed a game-opening, 108-yard kickoff return by David Johnson for a TD. It was the longest return ever allowed by Chicago. They eventually averaged the 30-yard line for starting field position, no worse than the Cardinals, thanks largely to the recovery of a muffed punt by Jacquizz Rodgers. Robbie Gould’s 51-yard field goal added to his team record for most 50-yarders in a career, even if it seemed a curious time to even try one: down 42-20 with 3:40 left in the third quarter.

COACHING: C-plus — They actually came in with an outstanding game plan for facing Arizona’s defense, with plays and blocking schemes well designed to beat the blitz in the run game and passing game and an eye on producing big gainers. Losing Cutler went a long way toward dashing those plans because Clausen can’t stand and fire downfield or move and throw hard in the face of a pass rush the same way. The defense blitzed more as the game progressed and it might be something they need to do more in the future if the pass rush doesn’t improve.


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