This business with Jay Cutler getting injured and fans favoring his backup as a permanent solution is nothing new.
It happened at Chicago in 2013, when Cutler missed one start with a torn groin muscle and four more with a high ankle sprain. At no point did former Bears head coach Marc Trestman waver from the notion his starter would be back in the lineup as soon as he was physically able, even though Cutler’s replacement did quite well.
And who was that replacement? Believe it or not, Josh McCown, these days a starter with the New York Jets.
Stories in the Chicago Tribune archives give the details, how McCown went 3-2 as an emergency starter that year and was coming off a great performance on the week that Trestman announced Cutler had been medically cleared to return to full practice and would rejoin the lineup immediately.
McCown completed 27 of 36 passes for 348 yards and four touchdowns to beat Dallas in his final game before Cutler’s return. Matter of fact, that was enough to win McCown the NFC Offensive Player of the Week award.
Trestman explained his general philosophy on the matter like this.
“He (Cutler) is our starting quarterback. He’s our leader,” Trestman said. “It’s in the best interest of our football team, if he can move the team and not hurt himself or the team, we want him to be in there. And he wants to be in there.”
The Bears were 7-6 at the time and tied with Detroit for the NFC North lead. What followed was a near miss at making the playoffs, with Cutler and Chicago losing two of the last three games, including a 54-11 blowout at Philadelphia. Cutler was sacked five times in that one, but to be fair the Eagles dominated every facet of the game.
Use this as a template for what probably will happen with the Miami Dolphins a few weeks from now, providing Cutler is cleared to return from the cracked ribs he got in Sunday’s 31-28 win over the New York Jets.
Dolphins coach Adam Gase works well with Matt Moore, who sparked the comeback on Sunday, but he chose Cutler to run the team when Ryan Tannehill was lost for the season in August and he can be expected to choose Cutler again at the earliest opportunity.
That’s what Trestman did in 2013, rushing Cutler back into the lineup even though McCown had a higher passer rating to that point in the season, 109.8 to 88.4.
“We’re certainly very, very happy about the way Josh has performed,” said Trestman, “but this has been the plan and we’re going to execute it.”
There was one other time when Cutler came back from an extended injury absence in Chicago. He missed five games early in the 2016 with an injury to his right thumb but the Bears never got anything going with Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley as his replacements. Eventually the entire season went down the drain with Cutler missing the last six games due to surgery on his throwing shoulder.
“We did try to exhaust all the non-surgical remedies,” said Bears coach John Fox, who noted that Cutler finished up the game in which his shoulder was injured. “Jay is a tough guy and proved that to me in the past.”
Gase’s respect for Cutler is also high, worthy of a one-year contract for $10 million with the Dolphins this year. Ready or not, you’ll see him again, and maybe with more emotion from Cutler than people have come to expect.
Cutler’s former Chicago teammates reported that the quarterback gave a pregame motivational speech on the night he returned from that five-game injury absence last season, and then he went out to lead a 20-10 win over Minnesota.
The guy still wants to be out there, all right. If he didn’t, Cutler would have stayed retired at 34 rather than taking Gase’s offer to return to the NFL.