The Bears hope that by Sunday's home game against the Seahawks, the return of No. 1 quarterback Jay Cutler will render moot the question of whether Todd Collins or Caleb Hanie should be the top backup.
Cutler is expected back, but he first must pass an independent doctor's evaluation after he returns to a full-scale practice. He was limited last week in practice due to a concussion, and he didn't play Sunday.
Collins started Sunday's 23-6 victory over the hapless Panthers, but the Bears won in spite of Collins, not because of him.
The Bears were able to bounce back from their only defeat this season without Cutler, who was hurt in the Week 4 loss to the Giants. Cutler's value has never been demonstrated better than it was in his absence. Collins was intercepted four times before he was mercifully yanked before the last series of the third quarter and replaced by Hanie, who was third on the depth chart but could move up this week.
The 38-year-old Collins, who hadn't started a game in nearly three years, completed just six of 16 passes for 32 yards and finished with a passer rating of 6.2. He wasn't surprised to get the hook.
"I can understand it," he said. "It was probably my worst game ever, since I've been playing any sport. It's not like it was a surprise getting pulled. It's disappointing, but I was most disappointed in how I played."
Fortunately for them, the Bears had rocketed to a 17-3 lead in the first 10 1/2 minutes of the game. Matt Forte scored on an 18-yard run on the game's first possession and then busted a career-long 68-yard TD scamper on the Bears' next play from scrimmage. Forte finished with a career-best 166 yards on 22 carries, a 7.5-yard average. As a team, the Bears rolled up 218 yards on the ground, their highest total since Oct. 28, 1990, when they had 223 against the Cardinals.
In the three previous games combined, the Bears had rushed for a total of 175 yards, and their previous season best was 101 in the opener against the Lions. The rushing effort against the Panthers can only make Cutler's job easier when he returns and hopefully keep opponents off him. Cutler has been sacked 17 times this season, and Bears quarterbacks have been dropped a total of 21 times.
Coach Lovie Smith attempted to throw water on any budding quarterback controversy.
"It's a little early for us to get into that," Smith said. "We'll enjoy this win right now. Hopefully, Jay will be able to go and we won't have to go down that road."
RB Matt Forte
Collins may have played himself out of the No. 2 job by throwing four interceptions before being replaced by Hanie at the end of the third quarter. ... Forte had a career-best 166 rushing yards, including touchdown runs of 68 and 18 yards, on 22 carries for a 7.5-yard average. He had not averaged more than 2.9 yards per carry in any game this season. ... WR Devin Hester caught two passes for a total of 0 yards, but he had a 50-yard punt return. ... DE Israel Idonije, who plays opposite Julius Peppers, had a career-best three sacks. He now has a career-high four sacks for the season. ... Peppers intercepted a Jimmy Clausen pass after he tipped it straight up in the air, then made a diving catch in a crowd from his knees. He also had four tackles, according to press-box statistics.
The Bears have talked about committing to the run game, but they had averaged 69 yards per game until Week 5, when they rushed for 218 yards against the Panthers.
Smith continued to juggle the lineup Sunday, especially along the offensive line.
Rookie seventh-round pick J'Marcus Webb started his first NFL game at right tackle in place of nine-year veteran Kevin Shaffer, who had started the two previous games after Frank Omiyale moved over to left tackle following the hamstring injury to Chris Williams.
At right guard, free agent Edwin Williams, who was signed to the practice squad Sept. 5 and promoted to the 53-man roster Sept. 27, started at right guard in place of Lance Louis. Louis missed practice time during the week due to a knee injury that sidelined him in the second half of the Giants game in Week 4.
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