Commentary

Two too much to handle?

Extended loss of leaders Cutler, Briggs to injury puts Bears in tough spot

Updated: October 21, 2013, 7:01 PM ET
By Jon Greenberg | ESPNChicago.com

CHICAGO -- Chicago Bears coach Marc Trestman ended his 2013 season eulogy -- I mean, Monday press conference -- with a few laughs about not having to play his emergency quarterback, receiver Earl Bennett, in Sunday's hope-quashing loss to the Washington Redskins.

"When Josh (McCown) went out (to the field) early on, you were asking yourself on the sideline, could this be the day?" Trestman said at Halas Hall. "You're hoping it isn't."

Who knew Trestman was so fluent in gallows humor?

After the Bears' 45-41 loss to Washington, they fell to a respectable but illusory 4-3. But the important record to consider is that for the next month to six weeks, they'll be oh-for-2, with no QB Jay Cutler and no LB Lance Briggs. Everyone's worst fears were realized when Cutler didn't get up after a sack Sunday. Those fears were confirmed Monday by a prognosis of a four- to six-week period of rest with a torn groin muscle.

Of course, that's not the worst of it.

All we knew Sunday was that linebacker Briggs left the game in the third quarter with an unidentified shoulder injury. On Monday, we found out he broke a bone in his shoulder and will be out approximately six weeks.

Even in the NFL, it's rare for a team to lose its best players on offense and defense in the same game. Good thing long-snapper Patrick Mannelly is immortal, or we'd have a real three-phase disaster.

A once-promising season has all the makings of a Chicago disaster.

Trestman told a nettlesome reporter he would "beg to differ" about the team being dead without Briggs and Cutler. The next-man-up philosophy is great in movies, but lousy in reality.

Officially, Cutler will be week-to-week after a month, according to the Bears, and they're hopeful Briggs will be back at about the same time.

[+] EnlargeJay Cutler
Harry E. Walker/Getty ImagesThe loss of Jay Cutler and Lance Briggs for at least four weeks costs the Bears their offensive and defensive leaders.

"They're significant, but the positive thing is they're not out for the season," Trestman said. "They're not done. They're going to be back. This team has an obligation with the next-man-up philosophy of coming together. There are a lot of reasons to be excited about coming back here next week and cleaning up the things we can get better at."

Trestman said his only reason for optimism is that the possible return dates given to him by doctors are within the confines of the season, and also some vague paper he read about groin injuries.

But that's probably the most important thing about being the head coach: putting on a happy face while everyone else is crying. It's all about setting a tone.

The loss of a quarterback always hits the hardest, but considering how lousy the Bears' defense has been with Briggs -- with the exception of a continuing knack for getting takeaways -- the prospects without him seem like nil.

Nil was the word general manager Phil Emery used to describe the chance of Brian Urlacher returning to active duty. But we knew that already.

After Briggs got hurt Sunday, the Redskins ran 26 plays for 230 yards with three touchdowns.

The Bears are already without two former starting defensive tackles and middle linebacker D.J. Williams for the season. Julius Peppers isn't dominating anybody, and the first-round pick from 2011, miscast defensive end Shea McClellin, has been so disappointing that Emery all but credited him for having a good personality Monday at his Halas Hall press conference.

Now it's up to veteran James Anderson and rookie middle linebacker Jon Bostic to run the show in Briggs' stead. The third linebacker will be either Blake Costanzo or rookie Khaseem Greene.

In a radio appearance on ESPN Chicago 1000, Urlacher said he would tell Bostic not to "listen to all that crap, man. Don't listen to those comparisons" to him or the other famed middle linebackers in the league.

Bostic has significant abilities, but no one is going to compare him or this defense to any of the Bears' greats. This isn't a time for getting a big head.

We're witnessing the beginning of the transition away from the glory days of the Lovie Smith defense. The Bears won't admit it, but it's true. All the Bears' deficiencies, which are rooted in fundamental breakdowns, were on display as Washington gained 499 yards. Out of 10 read-option plays, Trestman said the Bears executed correctly twice. All I remember is Skins quarterback Robert Griffin III having easy runs to the sidelines. He sure looked healthy to me.

I'd credit Trestman for tackling these issues head-on with reporters, but given the way the Bears tackle these days, forget it.

As for the offense, McCown did an excellent job of jumping in with no reps and leading the offense to four scores in five second-half chances. But the Bears have yet to put together a full offensive game. McCown is the perfect backup, but a skeptical league awaits his first game as a starter this season. Since the Bears are entering their bye week, that start will come Nov. 4 in Green Bay on "Monday Night Football."

"We have an opportunity at Lambeau Field next week, and we know it's going to be for first-place position in our (division) regardless of what happens this weekend," Trestman said. "Our guys should be excited about that and I think they will be. I think they can rally around each other and embrace this opportunity and make this a very positive week in advance.

"It's going to be an environment where certainly people will think otherwise. We'll give them the opportunity to do that, but I think our guys will come in focused and ready to go."

That's Trestman-speak for "Bring it, haters."

Trestman is giving his players and coaches the week off, imploring everyone to get away from football. Bears fans should get the week to mope and pout before focusing their positive energies on Green Bay.

With Cutler injured and Caleb Hanie ineffective, McCown started in Green Bay on Dec. 25, 2011 and had a credible game. He completed 19 of 28 passes for 242 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.

Compared to Cutler's production at Lambeau Field -- 48 percent passing with two touchdowns and 10 picks -- maybe McCown is an upgrade there.

Since 2009, when somebody besides Cutler starts at quarterback, the Bears are 2-6, averaging 14.4 points per game (according to ESPN Stats & Info).

At the least, Cutler would miss the three games against the Packers, Detroit and Baltimore, and could be back for the Nov. 24 game at St. Louis. More conservatively, the Bears have to be hoping he makes it back for the last four games, starting Dec. 9 against Dallas. Maybe Briggs will come back that week, too.

The question is: What kind of team will they come back to, a resilient team ready to peak or an injury-battered group ready for 2014?

Take some time and sleep on it. The rest of the season starts Monday, Nov. 4.

Jon Greenberg

Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com. He has lived and worked in Chicago since 2003, and is a graduate of Ohio University and the University of Chicago.

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