Wide receiver Brandon Marshall said he could tell after the second Bears drive that Jay Cutler had “all kinds of things going on from the waist down." Cutler struggled visibly with what initially was thought to be carryover from the groin tear of Oct. 20 but turned out to be an ankle problem severe enough that afterwards the quarterback wasn’t sure he would be able to play next Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens.
Yet coach Marc Trestman did not appear to be seeing the same things, being unwilling to pull his hobbling quarterback until a final possession in the fourth quarter and the offense had stagnated behind Cutler’s 9-for-22 passing in the second half.
“I didn’t want to take him out unless he felt he couldn’t do the job,” Trestman said. “He had, I thought a very courageous performance throughout.”
No one was questioning Cutler’s courage. Trestman was saying Cutler was strong when no one said he was weak.
Indeed, for Trestman, whose fourth-and-1 call to seize the emotional high ground was critical in last Monday’s win at Green Bay, this was a disaster and had a very odd ring, as if it was Cutler dictating whether or not he could keep going in a game where it was painfully clear he could not.
The decision to start Cutler just 21 days after he suffered a torn groin was not the mistake. All involved said that the groin was not a problem even as Cutler at times seemed to limp and try walking off whatever was bothering him.
The mistake lay in staying with a player with an ankle injury and who no longer gave his team the best chance to win, the standard typically used to measure nearly all play-or-not-play decisions, assuming health is not an issue, which it was.
Cutler had his left ankle rolled up on during the second quarter, needed to have it taped up at halftime, and then completed just 4 of 12 passes in the third quarter and 9-of-22 overall in the second half before switching to Josh McCown. The No. 2 threw an 11-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Marshall with 40 seconds remaining, setting the stage for the two missed two-point efforts to tie.
Maybe this was a sign of the squirreliness of the moment: Cutler left Soldier Field with an ankle sufficiently dinged that he was forced out of this game and unsure about next week’s against Baltimore, yet was carrying — not wearing — a plastic walking cast he had for the injury.
“I may come back tomorrow and say I made a mistake, I should have taken him out earlier,” Trestman acknowledged. “But at the time, I don’t think the decision was made to keep him in there and let him fight with his football team.”
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Marshall was not inclined to listen to “mistake” questions or suggestions:
“Let me say it like this: There’s not a lot of Jay Cutlers walking the streets,” Marshall said with measured deliberateness, without mentioning that Cutler isn’t exactly walking the streets pain-free. “I don’t care how great Josh McCown does; he’s awesome. I’m glad we have him as our No. 2. I don’t think you can have a better No. 2.
“But Jay Cutler is our quarterback. No one can lead our team better than he can. Jay 80 percent is better than a lot of guys at 100 percent in the NFL.
“Once he gets back to 100 percent, we’ll continue to roll.”
That actually is something no one would really debate. The issue on Sunday, however, was what happens or doesn’t happen when Cutler is not 100 percent.