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CHICAGO -- Jay Cutler suffered a concussion in the first half Sunday during Chicago's 13-6 loss to the Houston Texans, leading to concerns about the quarterback's availability for next Monday night's game at San Francisco.
Bears coach Lovie Smith maintained that at this point, "we're not ruling Jay out (for next week) by any means," but acknowledged that "if (backup Jason Campbell) has to go, we feel very comfortable."
"We're hopeful (that Cutler is available next week), but can't go that far," Smith said. "I just know he had symptoms, which started clearing up after the (first) half. But when a guy doesn't finish the game, you just have to go with that right now."
The Bears opened the second half down 10-3 with Campbell at quarterback, and minutes later the team officially announced Cutler would sit out for the duration because of the concussion. In the locker room at halftime, Cutler displayed concussive symptoms, according to Smith, who said the quarterback "wanted to play, but the decision was made for him."
Cutler took a hard shot with 2:56 remaining in the first half when he scrambled past the line of scrimmage to complete a 42-yard pass to Devin Hester. Officials ruled an illegal forward pass, but as Cutler released the ball, he was hit in the head by Houston linebacker Tim Dobbins who was flagged for unnecessary roughness on the play.
Cutler appeared to be shaken up after the hit by Dobbins, but remained in the game for seven more snaps. On the very next play, Cutler scrambled for an 11-yard gain, diving headfirst into Texans cornerback Kareem Jackson.
Cutler didn't display concussive symptoms on the field, according to Smith, who said the quarterback "took more shots than he needed to take," and insisted there were "no symptoms until the half."
Dobbins claimed to have hit Cutler in the chest on the play that may have ultimately knocked the quarterback out of the game.
"I know I just hit him in the chest. I did not touch his helmet," Dobbins said. "You want to try and aim for the hip to get the legs and body to go down with him. But with him, he was trying to deliver the ball. So I was really trying to hit him up high so he would mess up the throw as well."
Dobbins called the hit timely, adding "it was good that (Cutler) was out though. You always want to take the quarterback out of the game."
Standard protocol suggests Cutler will be evaluated this week with a brain function test called ImPACT (Immediate Post-Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing). The league has required players to establish baseline tests of brain function since 2007.
The computerized testing utilizes memory and recognition exercises to help measure recovery from a concussion. So there's a chance Cutler's availability could be in jeopardy for next week's game against the San Francisco 49ers, who lost their quarterback Alex Smith on Sunday to a concussion in an overtime loss to the St. Louis Rams.
Medical personnel compare the scores from the original baseline test to the one administered after a concussion to make a determination on whether to clear a player.
Receiver Brandon Marshall, who finished with eight catches for 107 yards, expressed confidence in Campbell's ability should Cutler have to miss time.
"Jason Campbell is more than capable," Marshall said. "(Cutler is) our leader, he's the heart and soul of the offense. We want him to have a speedy recovery. There was no heads down when Jay was down. There was no complaining. We have a starting quarterback (Campbell) as a backup. We are fortunate to have him and there will be not drop off in our offense."
Campbell completed 11 of 19 for 94 yards in relief. An eight-year veteran, Campbell started 70 of 71 career games coming into this season, and owns a 31-39 record as a starter with the Washington Redskins (2005-09) and Oakland Raiders (2010-11).
In the locker room at halftime, Cutler told Campbell to prepare to take the reins, according to the backup.
"Jay told me, 'I'm not sure right now of the status of my injury. Just get ready to go out and play the second half,' " Campbell said. "From that point on, the coaches came out and said, 'You're in, let's roll.' "
NFL guidelines dictate that players showing concussive symptoms need to pass a battery of tests and receive clearance from a team doctor, in addition to an independent neurologist, before returning to the field of play.
According to league guidelines, a player sustaining a concussion should not return to action on the same day if he continues to display symptoms, which include the inability to remember assignments or plays, a gap in memory, and persistent dizziness and headaches. The league enacted the guidelines in 2010, two months after a congressional hearing on head injuries.
Campbell said he and Cutler communicated on the sideline as the team tried to figure out Houston's coverages, and the two discussed "trying to stay on schedule with the football."
Cutler last suffered a concussion on Oct. 3, 2010 after absorbing nine sacks in the first half against the New York Giants.
He left the game Sunday having completed 7 of 14 for 40 yards and two interceptions to generate a passer rating of 16.7.
Linebacker Brian Urlacher considers the Bears to be in better shape than last November, when Cutler broke the thumb on his throwing hand with the team sitting on a 7-3 record in the midst of a five-game winning streak. Cutler missed the last six games of the 2011 season as the Bears dropped five of six down the stretch with Caleb Hanie at quarterback.
Hanie also filled in for Cutler during the team's loss to the Green Bay Packers in the 2010 NFC Championship Game, when the quarterback was forced out because of a sprained knee.
"That's why we got Jason," Urlacher said. "Hopefully (Cutler) will be back soon. Jason did a good job. (It's) a tough situation throwing the ball in those conditions. I thought he came in and did a good job for us."
Considering backups receive few repetitions to prepare throughout the week, Campbell admitted to Sunday being a difficult situation. Campbell completed a 45-yard pass to Marshall, but for the most part refused to take chances, often opting for check-down options.
With more prep time, though, Campbell thinks he can start faster while getting the rest of the offense "used to me as a quarterback, until Jay is ready."
"It was a seven-point game with Jason leading us in the second half," Smith said.
Bears rookie defensive end Shea McClellin also was knocked out of Sunday night's game with a concussion.
Team officials took McClellin to the locker room for examination immediately after Chicago's opening kickoff.
The 19th overall pick in the 2012 draft, McClellin entered Sunday's game having contributed three tackles (including two for a loss), 2.5 sacks and nine quarterback pressures while playing the role of pass-rushing specialist on third downs.
McClellin is tied for second on the sacks list among NFC rookies.
The loss of McClellin thrust third-year veteran Corey Wootton into a more prominent role in Chicago's defensive line rotation. Wootton entered Sunday night with seven tackles, four sacks and two forced fumbles.