Monday, November 21, 2011

Winning can still happen

"Tough break"

That was the headline in both the Tribune and the Sun-Times this morning with news that Bears QB Jay Cutler is likely out the rest of the regular season with a broken thumb on his throwing hand after breaking it making a tackle on an interception in the fourth quarter. It puts a damper on a season that has seen the Bears win their last five games and pull into likely the fifth seed in the playoffs as a wild card.

It kills the good mood Bears fans were in following the team' 31-20 win over the Chargers yesterday at Soldier Field. Cutler looked sharp in completing 18 of 32 passes for 286 yards and two touchdowns in the victory. He also managed to avoid getting sacked for only the second time in 30 games, according to ESPN.

But it was one of his few mistakes that did him, likely for the next six to eight weeks.

With the Bears driving, Cutler threw a pass meant for WR Johnny Knox, who slipped on the Soldier Field turf, that was picked off by Chargers DB Antoine Cason, who returned it 64 yards before he was knocked out of bounds. Cutler gave chase and caught up to Cason, but was knocked down by LB Donald Butler. However, the hustle allowed RB Matt Forte to knock Cason out of bounds, and the Chargers subsequently were not able to score.

That in itself was possibly the good news out of this mess, in that Cutler continued to rid people of that notion that he is not a tough quarterback as his hustle did enough to slow Cason to allow Forte to catch him. Add to the fact that Cutler finished the game with that thumb injury and he is doing plenty to erase doubts that have followed him following last year's NFC championship game when he was knocked out with a knee injury.

The Bears also still have hope for the final six games of the year as they enter them with a 7-3 record.

One, despite backup QB Caleb Hanie's relative inexperience, his major experience came from the pressure cooker that was that NFC title game, in which he completed 13 of 20 for 153 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. However, save for the two picks, and Hanie almost pulled off the impossible and got the Bears to the Super Bowl.

Two, the Bears have a favorable schedule. Yes, they have a tough road game this upcoming Sunday at an improving Oakland Raiders, and they still have to visit an undefeated Green Bay on Christmas night. But the other four games are very winnable (home games against Kansas City and Seattle, road games at Denver and Minnesota). If they win four of those games and even split them, they're likely in the playoffs.

Three, the Bears' formula for success centers on a good running game and a good defense. The defense looked a little shaky at times Sunday against the Chargers, with San Diego WR Vincent Jackson torching a defense ranked just above Green Bay and New England in pass defense for 165 yards and one touchdown on seven catches, but they have come through when it counts. Plus, for Forte in a year where he's trying to prove that he is worthy of a big contract, now is the time to put up or shut up, when the team needs him the most.

It can happen.

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