Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler sat slouched on a cart, and bowed his head as it drove through the tunnels of FedEx Field following Sunday’s 45-41 loss to the Washington Redskins. Soon after, equipment bags from the visiting team’s locker room were being flung into a large moving truck, and the Bears were headed home wounded — and wondering how Sunday’s shootout got away from them.
Cutler’s groin is about to be one of the most discussed injuries in the NFL, after the franchise quarterback was injured and left the game in the second quarter. That presented an opportunity for journeyman backup Josh McCown, who threw for 204 yards and a late touchdown but was upstaged by the heroics of Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III. And with Cutler’s status still a mystery heading into the bye week and a trip to Green Bay the following Monday night, the 34-year-old McCown must grapple with the prospect of leading Chicago (4-3) during the second half of the season.
“When you’re close to somebody, and they get hurt, man, your heart just kind of sinks,” McCown said of Cutler’s injury after the game. “But at the same time you just have to process that emotion and move on, get ready.”
After watching Cutler exit with the Bears trailing 17-10 in the second quarter, McCown said he prayed, grabbed his helmet and took some warmup throws. What ensued, at times, was stunning. McCown was crisp with his reads and rarely missed (he completed 14 of 20 passes), and he did his best Cutler impersonation at times, creating opportunities with his feet. He received plenty of help from Chicago’s usual playmakers — Devin Hester returned a punt 81 yards for a touchdown to tie the game at 17, and Matt Forte scored two of his three touchdowns in the second half, tying the game at 24 and 31.
McCown, who has played for five teams since entering the league in 2002, was at his best with the Bears trailing 38-34 in the middle of the fourth quarter. He engineered a four-play, 67-yard scoring drive that featured back-to-back completions to Brandon Marshall for 28 yards and Alshon Jeffrey for 35 yards that landed Chicago in the Washington red zone. He capped the march off with a seven-yard touchdown completion to Marcellus Bennett for the 41-38 lead with 3 minutes 12 seconds remaining.
“He led the way, man. He just kept telling the guys to believe,” said Marshall, who finished with six catches for 75 yards. “Josh, man, he’s really a captain on this team. He just doesn’t have the ‘C’ on his chest.”
That would belong to Cutler. He was one of many casualties against the Redskins, including linebacker Lance Briggs (shoulder), cornerback Charles Tillman (knee) and a banged-up Marshall, who after the game said, “everything hurts.”
Wide receiver Earl Bennett, a former teammate of Cutler’s at Vanderbilt, said he was prepared to enter the game as the team’s emergency quarterback if McCown had gone down. The Bears wouldn’t fall into that depth of desperation Sunday, although McCown was charged with rallying his team back after Washington running back Roy Helu Jr. had given the Redskins a 45-41 lead with under a minute to play. McCown didn’t panic. He hit Forte with two short completions to set the Bears up near midfield with 15 seconds left, which gave the Bears a chance. “He gave us a chance to make plays,” Bennett said.
McCown never got a chance to win the game. He was sacked by defensive lineman Barry Cofield and Brian Orakpo after being flushed out of the pocket – only left to wonder what would have been had he got a ball to the end zone – and whether he will get another chance to see the field in two weeks against the Packers.
“You know, it’s obviously not ideal to play [without reps in practice] but the expectations are, they expect you to play,” McCown said. “There’s no real time to think, ‘Oh well, geez, I didn’t get this rep, I didn’t get that rep.’ And you just got to get out there and go.”
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