Jay Cutler was hurt. It was obvious. He was hobbling. Limping. His magically healed torn groin had to be some kind of issue.
Same goes for his hand, which was slammed on a blitz. And his ankle, which was rolled in the second quarter. Just say his entire body was a mess, what with the way the Lions were making sure they belted him every chance they got.
But Cutler could still throw a little, although not consistently. That, too, was obvious.
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Marc Trestman faced a decision: What was best for the Bears? That’s the barometer every coach uses. What gives a team its best chance to win?
Trestman decided a pained, wonky Cutler did, not a healthy backup coming off a big win in Green Bay.
Trestman decided wrong.
After going 12-for-18 with a TD and interception in the end zone in the first half, Cutler stumbled along going 4-for-12 in the third quarter. Even with some strong protection, Cutler wasn’t right. He had zero rhythm. Who knew where the next pass was going? And he certainly wasn’t a threat to run, so the bootleg was nowhere.
If the start of the third quarter wasn’t the moment to make a change, then certainly the end of it was the time to pull Cutler and insert Josh McCown in a winnable game the Bears trailed by four.
But no. Trestman stayed with Cutler, and remarkably, improbably, his faith seemed to be rewarded.
After Chris Conte returned an interception to the Lions’ 9, Cutler’s offense scored two touchdowns.
Problem was, neither counted.
Guard Matt Slauson was flagged for holding on Matt Forte’s TD run. Then Alshon Jeffery was ruled to have bobbled the ball as he came down with a catch in the end zone.
So, arguably, Cutler still could make things happen. Other Bears couldn’t.
But Cutler was so sloppy at other times that it screamed change.
Finally, Trestman made a move. With 2:18 to go after the Lions had scored to make it 21-13, McCown came in.
You don’t have to win the game, Josh, just go ahead and tie it.
And he almost did.
Directing a 10-play drive that culminated in a TD pass to Brandon Marshall, the Bears needed a two-point conversion to send it to overtime.
McCown threw the ball away, and the comeback was done.
But wait. Lions defensive lineman Willie Young clobbered McCown. Personal foul. The Bears got another chance.
But then Lions defensive tackle Nick Fairley, who earlier clobbered McCown and drew a roughness penalty that moved the Bears on the last drive, stuffed Forte after beating Roberto Garza.
And so, the Bears lost a shot at first place in the NFC North in losing to the dumbest football team in the league thanks in part to some curious decisions by the head coach.
*Trestman went for it on fourth-and-1 again instead of trying a 45-yard field goal that would’ve given the Bears a 10-7 lead.
*Why not run Forte more?
*Why not run off the edge on that second two-point attempt when the Lions had stuffed the middle most of the game?
But nothing mattered like the decision early in the week to start Cutler and the decision to stick with him.
“I didn’t want to take him out as long as he felt he could do the job,’’ Trestman said.
Cutler’s tough. We get it. But save the player from his own stubbornness. Save the team and the game. If starting Cutler seemed to be a decision that worked early, then staying with him obviously was not.
For a guy who knows so much about quarterbacks, Trestman didn’t know he needed another one to start the second half -- or at least the fourth quarter.
The Bears said the doctors OK’d Cutler to play, but there could be no way to mimic in practice the game-action required to avoid the Lions’ pressure up the middle. Ultimately, that was the difference. Cutler couldn’t be Cutler. Geez, he couldn’t even be Caleb Hanie.
Trestman has made many great decisions to put the Bears in position to win games this season. On Sunday, he made one that cost his team exactly that.