Bears’ coach won’t panic
But the Bears coach was emphatic that the big turnout wasn’t for a funeral after the club acknowledged Jay Cutler soon will undergo surgery on his right thumb after it was fractured in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s 31-20 victory over the Chargers.
It was the fifth consecutive win for the Bears. At 7-3, they’re in the thick of the NFC wild-card race, something Smith figures his team will be very much a part of with backup Caleb Hanie replacing Cutler. With three more wins, the Bears likely would reach the postseason.
“Don’t feel sorry for us,” Smith said. “We have a lot of things in place. We’re going to miss a great player for a period of time. But offensively we’re going to rely on our running game a little bit more. We have a great defense and special teams. You know how we win football games around here.”
Smith said Cutler’s surgery will happen as soon as possible and that the plan is for the quarterback to return before the end of the regular season, which has six games remaining starting with Sunday’s game at Oakland. Whether that means Cutler could return for the Dec. 25 game at Green Bay or the Jan. 1 finale at Minnesota, Smith wouldn’t say.
“It stinks for us because he’s having such a great year. He’s our leader. He’s a guy we turn to for pretty much everything,” middle linebacker Brian Urlacher said. “So, it’s bad for us as a team, but it’s worse for him as an individual. He’s having a great year. He’s pretty upset about it I’m sure, and it’s not going to be a fun process for him.”
The Bears will search for a veteran quarterback to add to the mix behind Hanie as third quarterback Nathan Enderle, a rookie fifth-round pick from Idaho, is untested. Smith placed his faith in Hanie much the same way he did with Kyle Orton in 2005, when he was a rookie starter after Rex Grossman was lost for four months with a fractured leg. By being an effective game manager, Orton was 10-5 as a starter, winning eight in a row at one point.
“Same goal,” Smith said. “Nothing has changed around here. This is a tough blow but we know how to handle these situations. We’ve lost our starting quarterback and had to go to the next guy and he led us on a long winning streak and allowed us to have a successful season. Whenever you get in a situation, you draw back on your history.”
The Bears won the NFC North that season with the league’s top-ranked scoring defense. They allowed only 202 points and Thomas Jones rushed for 1,335 yards. Orton passed for only 1,869 yards but threw one or no interceptions in 13 of his 15 starts. He might not have individually led many victories, but he didn’t throw many games away like some unproven quarterbacks do.
Hanie has not started and has thrown only 14 career regular-season passes. He entered the NFC championship game in the fourth quarter last season with the Bears trailing the Packers 14-0 and led two scoring drives. The Bears were on the Packers’ 29-yard line when he was intercepted in the end zone by Sam Shields on a fourth-and-5 pass.
The Bears didn’t turn to Hanie until veteran backup Todd Collins—whom offensive coordinator Mike Martz lobbied hard to get—bombed out, making it fair to question Martz’s support of Hanie.
“Caleb will be fine,” Urlacher said. “Nothing against Caleb, but we have to step up on defense and play better. Caleb did a good job for us last year. He’s got some ability. He runs really well. He’s going to be able to move around in the pocket a little bit, maybe do a little bit of things with that—a little (Tim) Tebow offense maybe.
“Who knows? He’ll have a chance to show us what he can do. These games all matter for us so they’re a big situation, just like the NFC championship was for him last year.”