Chicago Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher summed up today the team’s reaction to the news of Jay Cutler needing surgery on his right thumb:
“It’s devastating,” he said.
The Bears officially announced today that Cutler will undergo surgery on his thumb tomorrow. Yet they are hopeful he will be able to return before the end of the season.
"People underestimate the kind of leader he is,” said Urlacher. "It's going to be hard to replace that. He's going to be missed."
It’s believed that Cutler hurt the finger in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s game chasing down Chargers cornerback Antoine Cason, who was racing down the sideline after an interception. Cutler fought through a block and slowed down the defender long enough for Matt Forte to catch up to the play and push Cason out of bounds. Chicago’s defense picked off Phillip Rivers a few plays later, essentially sealing the win.
"That was a huge play in the game. That’s probably a 10-point swing right there. I wish he wouldn’t have made it,” Urlacher said. “We’d give [the Chargers] the pick-six to have Jay back."
Recovery time for a broken finger usually takes six to eight weeks. If Cutler is able to return in six weeks, he would come back just in time for the playoffs – assuming Chicago makes it to the postseason.
"I found out after the game,” said Urlacher. “It stinks, but Caleb [Hanie] will be fine.”
Hanie, a former undrafted free agent, now takes over as the starter. He was last seen on the field during last year’s NFC Championship game. He played almost the entire second half of that contest – throwing for 153 yards, 1 TD and 2 INTs – and nearly led the team to a comeback win over the Green Bay Packers. Yet Hanie has thrown just 14 regular-season passes in his career and it remains to be seen how his inexperience will affect Chicago’s offense.
Linebacker Nick Roach, Hanie’s roommate on the road, believes the fourth-year signal caller is up for the challenge.
“We feel good about Caleb. He's been around here for a long time,” Roach said. “I don't think they would have kept him around if they weren't confident in what he could do if a situation like this came up. So we feel good about it.”
Hanie has had two years to learn coordinator Mike Martz’s system. He won’t be stepping into this situation blind and he won’t be asked to do too much. He also has the luxury of playing in front of Matt Forte, one of the league’s elite running backs.
“As far as time goes, he's been here for four years, he's been backing up, and he's been going through the game plans as the starters would the whole time,” said Roach. “I think he'll be ready to go whenever his time comes.”
The Bears will be searching this week for a veteran signal caller to add to the roster, as the only other quarterback on the team is rookie Nathan Enderle. Marc Bulger, who played under Martz in St. Louis, is a name being thrown around. Even Kurt Warner’s name has been mentioned, although Warner stated on his Twitter page today that he will not be coming out of retirement. Even if the team does bring in a veteran, he’ll be used solely as a backup role, so it’s Hanie’s show from here on out.
One thing Hanie has going for him is mobility.
"He's going to be able to move around in the pocket a little bit,” said Urlacher. “Maybe a little Tebow offense."
While this news is tough to swallow for Bears fans, it doesn’t signal the end for this team. Chicago is not a club that relies solely on its offense to win games. Defense and special teams are just as important, if not more so, than the offense. For the remainder of the regular season, the team will lean hard on these two areas and hopefully work its way into the playoffs – at which time Cutler may be able to return.
"We're going to have to carry this team,” Urlacher said.
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Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.