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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- If Jay Cutler plays next week in Carolina, it won't be a victory.
Forget the final score; it'll be a loss for him and a loss for football players everywhere.
The Bears lost to the Giants 17-3 on Sunday, but the more important score is 9-1. That's nine sacks taken and one concussion for Cutler.
Nine sacks in one half, seven coming in the second quarter alone. You had to see it to believe it. Cutler attempted only 11 passes in the half. Of his seven second-quarter sacks, he fumbled three times, losing one.
|Jay Cutler was sacked nine times by the Giants and left with a concussion by halftime.|
The Bears couldn't be sure what sack resulted in the injury. And that's the saddest indictment of a bad offensive line and an offense still finding its way, despite what the two first games showed us. When you have to watch film to see which sack ended your star quarterback's night, because there's so much to choose from, you better make some changes.
Maybe it was one of Osi Umenyiora's three sacks. Maybe it was one of Justin Tuck's three. Aaron Ross' corner blitz was the last one Cutler endured, and he seemed slow to get up after it.
Thankfully, the NFL and its rabid fan bases are more educated than ever on concussions, and after the beating Cutler took at the New Meadowlands Stadium, even the most diehard Grabowski should want to give the quarterback an extra week of rest. If not more.
Cutler is tough, but he's human. And after all the harping on how his porous line was going to get him killed, it would be nice to be wrong on that one.
Details were sparse after the game, as they usually are. Cutler didn't meet with the media. Thanks to recent reforms, he will have to pass a battery of tests, and meet with an independent doctor, to earn the right to play.
I saw general manager Jerry Angelo walking late in the night in the lower confines of the stadium and as I sidled up to him, he said curtly, "I'm not in the mood to talk, partner."
Bears coach Lovie Smith wouldn't rule Cutler out of next week's game against the Panthers, but I'm going to guess Cutler sits for at least a game, especially after the recent precedent set when the team benched linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer after he suffered a concussion in the preseason.
If he plays, it's a shame.
"We'll see," Smith said. "Jay didn't finish the game, that's all we know. We know what type of competitor he is. If he's healthy and ready to go, of course he'll be back out there, like all of them will."
Healthy has a different meaning in the NFL. But there's no way to gloss over the way Cutler was abused by the Giants' ravenous pass rush.
"It's tough to see anyone get hit like that, especially our quarterback," Brian Urlacher said. "He didn't go back in, so it's probably not good."
The Bears' 3-0 start was earned, but it was also the result of making the most out of some fortune. Their luck ran out Sunday night, and it was an ugly reversal, like watching a formerly hot gambler throw craps for three straight hours.
This week, there were no arcane rules to rely on, no sloppy teams willing to give away a game with dumb penalties. The Bears were beaten up on offense and worn down on defense by a desperate New York team playing before its Ring of Honor initiates.
|Todd Collins didn't fare much better than Cutler against the Giants, leaving the game after taking a hit late in the fourth quarter.|
"The NFL is a humbling business," center Olin Kreutz said. "Those guys are great players across the way, but sometimes you get your [butt] kicked. We did tonight."
On Cutler's last drop-back just before the half ended, he was nailed by Ross, hardly the biggest hitter on the team. Cutler's toughness is well-known, but he had trouble getting up after that hit, squirming on his back before a final handoff.
You have to wonder why he was passing at all, since the Bears were on their own 19-yard line with less than a minute to play. Those previous eight sacks weren't incidental. Maybe if the Bears had a better backup than a 38-year-old they signed off his couch, Cutler would've been pulled earlier.
Mike Martz's coaching calls should get the talk-radio treatment this week. There were seemingly no adjustments as Cutler continued to drop back time and time again, looking discombobulated and uncomfortable. The Bears chipped and brought in extra tight ends, to no avail. Sometimes you just have to judge the players' performances, not the coaches.
"We did make adjustments," Smith said. "Sometimes they just don't work."
For all the criticism the offensive line has gotten the past two seasons, Cutler shares the blame, even if he has to take the brunt of the pain. He showed an alarming lack of pocket awareness, even when scrambling for his life.
That's how it goes for Cutler. When he's good, he's great, and when he's bad, he's consistently awful. Last year, he was sacked 35 times, and again, you can't blame it all on the line.
"It's hard to say [it was Cutler's fault]," Smith said. "You saw the pressure he was under. When you get a sack, it's a combination of a lot of things. Tonight, before we evaluate the video, we're going to say it's all of the above. You've got to get rid of the ball quicker, we've got to block better, put them in better situations. None of us did a good enough job to win the football game."
The Bears' defense broke down late, but it kept them in the game, holding the Giants to a 3-0 lead at the half. The D forced seven three-and-out drives and forced two fumbles and recovered another. Smith said he would've liked to have seen more takeaways. While the Bears gave up Ahmad Bradshaw's 129 rushing yards, only 47 came in the first half.
With Todd Collins in for Cutler in the third quarter, the Bears' defense would've had to play above 2006 standards for this team to win.
The sky hasn't fallen on the Bears, who are, of course, 3-1. But they had won their first three despite recurring problems, and those flaws came back to haunt them in the swamp.
The nonexistent running game, the bad line play, the defense's inability to get consistent pressure on the quarterback. All played a part in the loss.
Martz's offense, despite putting up great numbers in the first two games, has yet to yield a consistent rushing effort, thus negating the play-action and forcing an all-or-nothing passing scheme.
"In the NFL, you get humbled like this," Kreutz said. "If you're a good team, you bounce back. If you can't, you go into a spiral."
Last year, the Bears went into a spiral after a 3-1 start. Will this year's team be able to bounce back?
I'm willing to throw away next week's game in Carolina for Cutler's health. But when Cutler comes back, assuming he does this season, we're going to have to see some changes offensively for this team to succeed. This game's complete offensive collapse (110 yards, 0-for-13 on third downs) proved that the offense is a work in progress.It's going to be a long week in Lake Forest, and I'm curious to see what happens next.
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.