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Sunday, November 25, 2012
Updated: November 26, 3:36 PM ET
More than a stat line

By Melissa Isaacson
ESPNChicago.com

CHICAGO -- Jay Cutler will not top the list of Sunday's best NFL performances at quarterback. Statistically, at least a dozen others will have better numbers. And when they show Cutler's unsportsmanlike penalty for taunting late in a sloppy first quarter -- and they will -- it may even appear to some that Cutler did little to help his team.

But no one more emphatically proved their worth to their club like Cutler did Sunday for the Bears, returning from a week's absence because of a concussion to force a level of confidence into an offense as perhaps no one else could.

Jay Cutler
Jay Cutler completed 23-of-31 passes for 188 yards and a TD, but his most valuable asset Sunday may have been his leadership.

And by forcing, we mean that literally as Cutler continued his penchant for trying to place the football into spaces it has no business fitting into. But on Sunday anyway, it worked.

"When you have a quarterback like Jay Cutler," said Bears receiver Brandon Marshall, who became the first Bears' receiver to top 1,000 yards in a season since Marty Booker in 2002, "there are no holes too small."

Snapping a mini-losing streak of two games but averting a potentially major turning point in the season, the Bears behind Cutler's leadership put together a 296-yard day in total offense with a makeshift offensive line that literally had to ask for volunteers after two starters were sidelined with injuries.

Standing over Lance Louis on the Bears' bench early in the third quarter after the starting right guard followed starting left guard Chris Spencer to the sideline with a knee injury, Cutler was blunt.

"Who's going to be my guard?" he asked.

Recently demoted Gabe Carimi raised his hand or Cutler might have had to look to the aging but still imposing Mike Tice, who played tight end in his 14-year NFL career.

Earlier in the week, when asked what he could do to help his beleaguered line, which looked so powerless in San Francisco's mauling of the Bears last Monday night and was further hampered by the mysterious defection of starting left guard Chilo Rachal on Wednesday, Cutler cracked "Gain maybe 100 [pounds] or so."

But to their credit, the pasted-together Bears' line pulled together in impressive fashion, holding the Vikings' defense to one sack and Jared Allen -- who nonetheless cheap-shottted Louis out of the game -- to no sacks and only one Cutler hurry.

"Under the circumstances, they played well," Cutler said in what constituted effusive praise for him.

When Cutler knelt down late in the game to tie the shoe of left tackle J'Marcus Webb, the same J'Marcus Webb who caught Cutler's considerable wrath as well as a shove in the Bears' nationally televised loss to the Packers in September, it did not escape anyone.

"[That will] probably be on 'SportsCenter,'" Marshall said. "I don't know if it was Cutler-like, but it was cool and we were all cheering in the huddle."

"I guess," Cutler joked, "my fatherly instincts were kicking in."

Lost somewhat in a victory much-needed but significantly tainted by injuries to five Bears' starters, was the fact that Cutler seemed to show no ill effects from the concussion he sustained two weeks ago following a brutal helmet-to-helmet blow delivered by Houston's Tim Dobbins.

Cutler's 188 passing yards (on 23 of 31 completions) moved him into third place in franchise history with 11,261 yards as a Bear, surpassing Jim McMahon and leaving him just 307 passing yards short of Jim Harbaugh. Cutler is now 27-10 over his last 37 starts.

Cutler helped his line considerably by getting rid of the ball quickly -- a glaring deficiency in his replacement Jason Campbell's performance -- by improvising well and apparently, simply by being Cutler.

In addition to finding the often double-covered Marshall 12 times for 92 yards, Cutler completed a 13-yard touchdown pass to Matt Spaeth late in the first half that Spaeth pulled in brilliantly in the corner of the endzone while keeping both feet in-bounds. But it was also a pass -- through an "itty-bitty window," in Cutler's words -- few quarterbacks in the league could have completed.

"I can't really sum it up," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "Not every team has a guy like we have in our quarterback position. When plays break down, you have a guy that can scramble around and make a play. A guy that completes any throw you ask him to and you know, just [has] confidence."

What did it mean to have their starting quarterback back?

"It means the world," Marshall said. "This is a quarterback-driven league. Even though Jason Campbell is a starting quarterback in a backup role right now, there's nothing like your starting quarterback, especially when you have a guy leading you as talented as Jay. When you have a guy like that, you can't replace it, you can't do it at all."