- Michael C. Wright, ESPN Staff Writer
- 0 Shares
CHICAGO -- Bears quarterback Jay Cutler returned to the starting lineup Sunday after sitting out a game with a concussion and provided a strong boost for what had been an anemic offense in the club's 28-10 victory over the Minnesota Vikings, which snapped a two-game skid.
"Every team in the league doesn't have a guy like we have at our quarterback position," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "Jay Cutler, I thought was outstanding with his play coming back after a week off."
On Sunday, Cutler showed what the club had missed in Monday night's loss at San Francisco when he tossed a 13-yard touchdown pass to Matt Spaeth late in the second quarter. He directed an offense that racked up 23 first downs in addition to converting 58 percent on third down.
Despite a revamped offensive line which grew shakier with the loss of guards Lance Louis and Chris Spencer, Cutler suffered only one sack, and that came as a result of the quarterback tripping over the feet of center Roberto Garza as he dropped back. Cutler scrambled for yardage when plays broke down, and performed sharply despite missing a game.
Cutler also found Brandon Marshall for 12 of his 23 completions on the day, putting the receiver past the 1,000-yard mark in receiving yardage.
"When plays break down, you've got a guy that can scramble around and make a play; a guy that can complete any throw you ask him to," Smith said. "The confidence that comes with having your guy, your quarterback; no matter how it's looking, the guys have confidence with Jay leading us (that) we can come back."
Cutler didn't need to engineer any rallies because the team built a 25-3 lead at the half on the strength of two Michael Bush TD runs, and Cutler's pass to Spaeth.
Throughout the week of preparation leading into Sunday's game, Smith expressed confidence about Cutler's potential game-day availability. Although Cutler practiced on a limited basis all week because he hadn't yet been cleared by doctors for full participation, the quarterback passed an evaluation Saturday from an independent neurologist to receive a clean bill of health to play.
The team officially announced Cutler would start approximately 90 minutes before Sunday's game.
"I felt confident about it; felt good with the tests, had no symptoms of a concussion. I felt good," Cutler said. "It was just a matter of going through the motions and talking to the doctors. I had a good week at practice; a shorter week with the Monday game, and then Thanksgiving. So guys really had to dial in mentally, and that's what we were able to do."
With the team coming off back-to-back losses against the Houston Texans and San Francisco 49ers, Marshall said Cutler prepared for the Vikings with more of a sense of urgency than he'd "seen all year." Cutler's passes arrived in his targets' hands with "a lot of zip on them all week," according to the receiver.
"He was ready to go. He was fired up. He wanted it to be perfect in practice, and I think it showed in the game," Marshall said. "It transferred over because he was on fire today."
Cutler completed 6 of 7 to start the game as the Bears built a 10-3 lead after the first quarter on Bush's runs. By the end of the half, Cutler had fired incomplete just twice, hitting 15 of 17 for 117 yards and a TD to go with a passer rating of 115.0.
Cutler mentioned it was important for the Bears to play with "rhythm and a little sense of urgency," and despite being forced to work with what the quarterback described as a "few moving pieces" on the offensive line due to injuries, the club seemed to achieve the showing it sought.
Cutler stayed back in Chicago recovering from the concussion sustained Nov. 11 against the Texans when the Bears fell Monday night to the 49ers, and watched backup quarterback Jason Campbell suffer six sacks and generate a passer rating of 52.7 for a floundering offense that produced 143 net yards.
Because of the shoddy protection along the offensive line during that loss, the Bears demoted starters Chilo Rachal and Gabe Carimi, and replaced them against the Vikings with veterans Spencer and Jonathan Scott. Spencer suffered a knee injury Sunday that forced Edwin Williams into the lineup, and Carimi moved inside to guard -- a position he'd never played -- to replace Louis, who also went down with a knee injury.
The offense never seemed to miss a beat. But even Cutler admitted that "with all the moving parts" up front that he wants "to get rid of the ball fast, find my first read and take it" because it's important "to limit sacks and keep their confidence high."
Perhaps Cutler's mere presence in the huddle does that for not only the offensive line, but the entire team.
"Jay's one of the best quarterbacks in the league," Smith said. "Everybody needs their stud quarterback playing. Of course we're no different. We expected him to give us a boost. I thought he played outstanding ball."
11hEric D. Williams