Bears quarterback Jay Cutler returned to the field Monday night to help spark the Bears to a 20-10 victory over the divisional rival Minnesota Vikings.
To say the Bears missed Cutler during his absence with a thumb injury would be an understatement. The team dropped to 1-6 on the season without him and were in real danger of having players lose focus and mentally check out for the remainder of the season before the halfway point.
Instead, the Bears were energized in beating the pants off of the NFC North leaders and one of the best teams in football. They picked up their second victory of the season and currently have a 2-1 divisional record, which would have come in handy if they were in a playoff race. If they hadn’t collapsed in two very winnable games against the Colts and Jaguars, they’d be sitting comfortably at 4-4 heading into their bye week with a favorable second-half schedule.
As it stands, they’re 2-6 with a microscopic chance at a playoff berth, wondering what could have been if not for an injury to Cutler and a host of other players on both sides of the ball.
But, that’s a story for another day. The plot here is Cutler’s return and the impact on the team.
Perhaps no player missed Cutler more than receiver Alshon Jeffery, whose statistics and presence in the offense were rattled by Cutler’s absence. On Monday, Jeffery caught four passes for 64 yards and a touchdown and had a chance to catch two more scores in a miserable first half performance that he’d like to forget.
But Jeffery said that Cutler’s leadership was evident, beginning with a pre-game locker room speech that motivated the team.
“He was talking about giving relentless effort,” Jeffery said after the game. “He said to give it everything you got and play for each other.”
Overshadowed by Cutler’s return was the performance of rookie running back Jordan Howard, who compiled over 200 yards of total offense in the thrashing of the Vikings. Howard rushed for 153 yards and a touchdown on 26 carries while catching four passes for 49 more yards.
To say that Howard’s performance was all because of Cutler’s return would be unfair to the rookie and it would be pushing things a little too far. But, there’s something to be said about Cutler’s return to the lineup causing the defense to be mindful of the passing game and what he could do slinging the ball down the field.
Cutler finished with 252 yards and a touchdown on 20 of 31 passing, resulting in a 100.5 quarterback rating. But even greater than his stat line was his presence in the huddle and his leadership on the field, and that was infinitely valuable on Monday.
As tight end Zach Miller put it: “He’s the emotion on the football field. To have him back means a lot. We play well around him. Everybody played well. It was just good to get a win.”