David Haugh In the Wake of the News
October 5, 2010
Poke. Prod. Make Jay Cutler recite the names of all the cast members of "The Hills," if eventually that's what it takes to prove his mental acuity.
But under no circumstances can the Bears rush Cutler back to the football field, even for practice, until he shows no lingering effects from the concussion that knocked him out of the second half of Sunday's 17-3 loss to the Giants. There's no hurry even if Cutler insists to teammates he's fine.
There is no truth to the rumor that the Bears knew Cutler really was messed up at halftime when he started hugging teammates. Come to think of it, that may be an additional test to see if Cutler has regained his senses. Have Devin Hester line up on the wrong side of a formation, as he did against the Giants, and if Cutler screams at him again then everybody will know he's back to being Jay.
In all seriousness, the Bears must err on the side of caution when it comes to Cutler. They have solid medical people who know this. They have football people who have been encouraged by league initiatives and new NFL rules to accept this. They have more at stake than beating the winless Panthers.
The decision should have less to do with Cutler playing Sunday and more to do with preserving him all season.
It will be pointed out that Panthers quarterback Matt Moore, now Jimmy Clausen's backup, didn't miss a practice and started against the Buccaneers seven days after the Giants concussed Moore in the season opener. But I don't recall seeing tackles Frank Omiyale or Kevin Shaffer on the Panthers' depth chart.
Rushing Cutler back to the same pocket that has collapsed more than any other in the NFL through four games would be like sending an air-traffic controller back to work days after a panic attack. One quarter through the season, the Bears have given up 18 sacks and are on pace to break the team record of 66 set in 2004, the last time they ran a version of the Mike Martz offense. The Qasim Mitchell Era is not one worth repeating.
Maybe Cutler shouldn't return until left tackle Chris Williams does. Maybe it won't matter. But the Bears shouldn't be criticized if they take the cautious route and consider time their ally and not the enemy.
Though it also dealt with a concussion, linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer's situation differs greatly with Cutler's. The bottom-line mentality of the NFL made it easier for the Bears to do the right thing and place Hillenmeyer on injured reserve because of tremendous depth at linebacker. The thinking changes when it involves a franchise quarterback who's the difference between making a playoff run and worrying about draft position.
"You have warring mentalities, because both the team and the player want him on the field next week but the Bears, in this case, have to be the ones who look long-term for the best interests of Jay,'' said Chris Nowinski, the President of the Sports Legacy Institute. Nowinski, a Hersey High grad whose playing career at Harvard was cut short due to concussions, is considered an expert on the topic.
Nowinski stressed the importance of players such as Cutler who sustain concussions being honest with their symptoms. Back in 2003 when Cutler was at Vanderbilt, for instance, he later acknowledged to a local newspaper not revealing the concussion he suffered Sept. 20, 2003, against Texas Christian. Players knew because Cutler called the wrong plays in the huddle.
The last documented concussion Cutler suffered as a pro came Dec. 31, 2006, with the Broncos when he was knocked out in the second quarter against the 49ers after a hit by current Bears defensive tackle Anthony Adams. Cutler returned in the third quarter but still seemed woozy when he burned three timeouts in one series and threw an interception Walt Harris returned for a touchdown in a 26-23 loss.
If Cutler returns against the Panthers after passing a battery of doctor-administered tests, it gives the Bears the best chance to win. But consider also that every snap a recovering Cutler takes behind that offensive line may improve the chances of every future opponent against the Bears too.
"If Cutler plays, Bears fans will be happy, but the educated fan will be cognizant of the fact that him playing after leaving (Sunday's) game with a concussion means he's another big hit away from suffering something far more damaging,'' Nowinski said.
So prepare a basic run-oriented game plan backup Todd Collins or Caleb Hanie can execute. If Cutler plays, consider it a bonus and use the same game plan.
For the good of the quarterback and the sake of balance, Martz needs to be as stubborn forcing the run against the Panthers as he was sticking with the pass against the Giants. If Martz thinks otherwise, hopefully this time Lovie Smith can stand up to his offensive coordinator/co-head coach and dictate a safer, smarter approach.
Keep shaking things up. Activate fullback Eddie Williams from the practice squad to give Matt Forte and Chester Taylor a lead blocker. Start Taylor to spark the running game. For one week anyway, make everything about the offense about everyone but Cutler.
If the Bears don't, soon they may have no other choice.
NFL policy on concussions adopted December 2009
"Once removed for the duration of a practice or game, the player should not be considered for return-to-football activities until he is fully asymptomatic, both at rest and after exertion, has a normal neurological examination, normal neuropsychological testing, and has been cleared to return by both his team physician(s) and the independent neurological consultant."
What should Bears worry about most? Cutler's safety
It's a matter of time before Cutler takes it on the chin, nose, ear, etc.
by neal hayes
The concussion that knocked Jay Cutler out of the Sunday night massacre at the Meadowlands isn't what the Bears should worry about most.
The next concussion he suffers is the bigger concern. Because if there's one thing we know about brain trauma, it's that the second concussion comes easier than the first. Based on what we've seen from the Bears, there's no reason to think the hits won't keep coming.
And coming ... and coming ... and coming ...
It doesn't take an NFL-record nine sacks in the first half of the 17-3 loss Sunday to put Cutler's season and perhaps even his career in jeopardy. One innocuous hit, one knee to the head while he's fighting for a first down, one glancing blow after he has released the ball could bring about symptoms of a second concussion that could have long-term implications.
Talk about a curse. The Bears finally have a franchise quarterback and all they can do is watch helplessly as he gets pounded into pudding.
''There's nowhere to go but up,'' tackle Frank Omiyale said after witnessing the horror of Monday's film session. That's true unless you're Cutler, in which case there has been nowhere to go but down.
The company line is predictable: It won't happen again. They're going to hook up jumper cables to the ears of Mike Tice and Mike Martz and use the surge of intellect to come up with ways to keep Cutler from searching for secondary receivers through his ear hole. They're going to roll up their sleeves and go back to work. Hey, all the mistakes they made are fixable.
Don't believe that for a second. If the Giants could do what they did four games into the season, then the Bears offensive line coach and offensive coordinator aren't any closer to figuring out how to protect Cutler than they were when training camp began.
If anything, they're worse off because the line has been reshuffled because of injuries, which means the cohesiveness required of a competent line remains as elusive as ever.
''We're working to correct that,'' coach Lovie Smith said at Halas Hall, where there's a pot of gold at the end of every rainbow and where daffodils bloom year-round. ''We're working to correct that, all right? It happened one time, all right? It's no more than that. We'll correct the things that we can, of course, and we have some different options, and we'll play better this week.''
He's correct in that things may not be as grim as they appear, and not only because the Bears will continue to receive bulk discounts on smelling salts. Smith got defensive when he sensed that the Sunday night debacle was overshadowing the team's three wins to open the season. He has a point. As bad as things appeared for the Bears, the upcoming white underbelly of their schedule includes the winless Panthers, the Seahawks at home and a trip to Toronto to play the winless Bills, which means the Bears could be 5-3 or 6-2 at the midway point, which is better than many of us expected.
But an advantageous schedule doesn't change the fact that, as of right now, the Bears can't run the ball and they can't protect the quarterback, which puts whomever is taking snaps in real jeopardy. That's not a negative take on the Bears after four games but the harsh reality.
The Bears may be able to mask their obvious deficiencies against teams with mediocre pass rushes, but against elite teams, the type of teams they can expect to encounter in the playoffs, teams like the Giants, they will be exposed. The result of that exposure could jeopardize Cutler's season and perhaps his career.
I'm not being an alarmist here. Concussions ended Steve Young's career. They played a role in Troy Aikman's retirement. They were a major factor in Trent Green calling it quits.
If something doesn't radically change, Cutler's second concussion is only a matter of when and how.
Some intelligent football folks have even blamed Cutler for the punishment he is taking, which is like blaming the victim. He holds the ball too long, they say, neglecting to mention that nobody is open and he is just trying to be patient and make plays like the ones that beat Dallas. They are critical of his fundamentals as he runs for his life, which is like criticizing an assault victim for not properly pumping his arms and lifting his knees while fleeing bat-wielding assailants.
Smith said they will make adjustments and find different combinations of players to prevent Cutler from taking more punishment, which is all good and fine. But they tried all that and more against the Giants. Nothing worked. They used the tight ends to block. They used maximum protections. They chipped. They rotated different linemen into the game trying to come up with the right combination.
In the end, it was like erecting a snow fence to stop a stampede.
''[Cutler] says he's going to be all right, and we know he's going to fight for us,'' Omiyale said.
That's not the issue. Never has been. Cutler has proven his toughness.
The question is whether the offensive line is willing to stand up and fight for their quarterback.
The Bears knew going into Sunday night's game that their quarterback had been battered like a piņata for three weeks.
And yet they game-planned as if it hadn't happened at all.
So are they delusional or merely negligent?
One would think them guilty of dereliction, but when you consider the vocabulary in Lake Forest, and how blissfully unaware they were of their good fortune the first three weeks, you leave the door cracked for hallucination.
What everyone else knew before the Bears' loss Sunday is that the Giants were coming after Jay Cutler, considering the state of the Bears' offensive line and their running game.
Add in the deep drops that expose Cutler in the Mike Martz offense, which lends itself to getting QBs pulverized, and you have quite a formula.
Even armed with that knowledge, Martz had the usual array of slow-developing plays that left Cutler a sitting duck, and unlike previous weeks Martz did little to adjust and left Cutler running for his life.
In fairness to the offensive line, when the Bears got Cutler in exchange for Kyle Orton who leads the NFL in passing yards despite getting hit frequently playing behind the NFL's least experienced offensive line it was well known that Cutler tends to eye a receiver, unwilling on occasion to go through his progressions and search for an open target.
For all his immense talent, he sometimes holds the ball too long, creating sacks, fumbles and interceptions.
He was guilty of that Sunday.
On the Bears' second series, Cutler was slow getting the ball to Earl Bennett on a second-and-19 from the Bears' 41 that went for 9 yards, but it would have been a huge gainer had the ball been delivered sooner.
On the next play Cutler badly underthrew Devin Hester on a deep throw down the right side that should have been a touchdown and instead went incomplete.
Of course, by then he'd already been sacked a couple of times and could have been woozy.
Cutler has to take a portion of the blame, but it's Smith who allows Martz to have Cutler stand back there and get hammered play after play. It's Smith's job, not Cutler's, to make certain the QB is in a position to succeed and lives through the exercise.
But they finally ran into a team this season that took away Cutler's main target long enough for the defense to get to him and prevent big strikes. Instead of 10 hits in a game, which is horrible, he took them all in a half, and you know the result.
They paid Brandon Manumaleuna all that money to block, and he couldn't block anyone Sunday night.
The offensive line is getting worse, not better.
Guys don't know assignments in the complicated Martz system, which was easily forecast.
And they're running into each other in the backfield.
Martz had Hall of Famers all over the field in St. Louis, players who could learn quickly and make adjustments on the fly. The Bears, we need not mention, don't, and the result is Sunday's mugging of Cutler that was as ugly as anything Bears fans have seen.
This is hardly an overreaction to one defeat. If Cutler's back the Bears should handle an 0-4 Panthers team that averages 11.5 points per game with a rookie QB, no Steve Smith and the 30th-ranked offense.
But it's not just about Sunday's loss. All four games have ended carrying the same questions with which the Bears began the season. At 3-0 they were able to pretend they had overcome all their weaknesses, even if no one outside the team believed it.
They went into the season without an offensive line or a backup quarterback, banking entirely on Cutler's ability to take a hit and make a strong throw, but only a fool would have thought they could get away with it.
Lovie Smith has very much enjoyed his "I told you so" 3-0 start, but with a few minutes left in Sunday's game, he was steely-eyed as he stood over a fallen Todd Collins, another victim of a brutal hit.
He had to be wondering about Cutler's health, Collins' age and Caleb Hanie's lack of experience.
One can only guess his season and career flashed before his eyes.
If not, then consider that Cutler will become only a bigger target for the opposition now that he has been concussed.
Not a pleasant thought to sleep on for those in management or a head coach trying to save a job.
And especially not for Cutler, whose headache is likely to get worse.