On the NFL
12:50 AM CDT, October 23, 2012
It could have been a moment that changed a game, a season, maybe even a career.
Ndamukong Suh, with his history of roughing up quarterbacks, broke through the Bears' protection and flushed Jay Cutler to his right. Cutler reached out with his left arm to fend off the hard-charging tackle. Suh grabbed the arm, and pulled Cutler toward him.
"From that point I knew it wasn't going to end well," Cutler said.
Suh grabbed Cutler's left shoulder and drove Cutler into his knee and into the ground.
It was part jiu-jitsu, part Charles Martin. Assuming Jim McMahon can remember what Martin did, Suh's slam must have made him wince.
This one was a clean but vicious takedown. It was the kind of hit that would have broken a lesser quarterback.
Cutler's ribs took the brunt of the hit. He stayed on the ground for a good while as Soldier Field became eerily quiet.
Finally, Cutler rose and trotted off the field. With Jason Campbell replacing him for a play, Cutler took a football on the sideline and fired it. Whoever caught it might still feel the sting of that throw.
Good enough. Helmet back on, he came back in.
They stood and applauded and screamed and pumped their fists at Soldier Field.
Cutler had taken the Lions' best shot and barely flinched.
But then with a little more than one minute remaining in the half, Cutler went to the locker room. The fear was he was done for the game. At halftime, he was X-rayed and treated.
All eyes were on the northwest tunnel as the Bears returned to the field for the start of the second half. Every Bears player came out except one. No Cutler.
Then, just before the opening kickoff of the second half, Cutler jogged out, helmet on.
Cutler kept coming, like always does. His toughness and relentlessness defined this game.
His numbers were ordinary; his impact was not. All he really needed to do after the hit was come back. And not give the ball away.
Cutler finished with just 150 passing yards. He completed 51.6 percent of his 31 throws for an average of 9.3 yards per completion.
After the injury, he didn't move and pass like himself.
"I missed some throws," he said. "I wasn't feeling exactly 100 percent, but I had to fight through it."
Bears receiver Brandon Marshall talked about how Cutler gave the Bears an emotional lift.
"It definitely scared us when he went down," Marshall said. "He's tough, man. I was fortunate enough to get drafted with him in 2006. Being around him, that's what I see on a daily basis, how tough he is."
Early in the second half, Cutler failed to get the ball in the end zone despite taking over on the Lions' 27. But three points was enough for the Bears after Cutler had led them to 10 in the first half.
Cutler was as dangerous with his feet as his arm, running three times for 34 yards.
"The line opened up some lanes for me and gave me some opportunities to try to take off," Cutler said. "I tried to take advantage of them."
On the Bears' first possession of the game, the Bears faced a third-and-8, and Cutler was under pressure from Kyle Vanden Bosch. Cutler stepped up and escaped, running 11 yards for the first down. On the next play, he avoided a big loss by sprinting away from Cliff Avril in the backfield. He still took a sack, one of five on the day, but he didn't lose any yards.
Cutler finished the drive by faking a handoff, and then running a bootleg right. He held the ball until defenders were drawn to him, then he found Marshall for a 7-yard touchdown.
That's good quarterbacking.
One of Cutler's finest moments may wind up being overlooked. On third-and-11 from the Bears' 1 in the second half, Cutler completed a pass to Marshall for 18 yards. If Cutler doesn't make that play, a good chance exists the Lions would have scored on the ensuing drive.
There were other highlights for Cutler.
On a 24-yard first-quarter scramble, Cutler looked like he was doing a tribute to the great Lion Barry Sanders, trying to put a move on cornerback Jonte Green. He wasn't quite Sanders, but Cutler showed some loose hips for a 6-foot-3 quarterback.
Those hips — and some other body parts — might not feel quite as loose Tuesday morning.
Cutler, we can be reasonably certain, will fight through it.
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