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updated: 11/20/2011 9:49 PM

Injury ends Bears' run of good luck

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  • Bears quarterback Jay Cutler looks to pass while under pressure from Chargers linebacker Antwan Barnes in the first half Sunday at Soldier Field.

    Bears quarterback Jay Cutler looks to pass while under pressure from Chargers linebacker Antwan Barnes in the first half Sunday at Soldier Field.
    Associated Press


Much was made last year of the Bears' incredibly good luck.

And the cynical among us did not believe it could last through another year.

It has not.

Jay Cutler has a broken right thumb.

There's no good time for your starting quarterback to suffer an injury, but this occurs just as Cutler is playing the best football of his career, and with the Bears riding a five-game winning streak.

This Bears football may not be pretty, and it might not even have a good personality.

But in this era of NFL football, where parity is king and parody is a loyal subject, any victory is beautiful, and the Bears have become adept at winning ugly.

After a 2-3 start that forced Lovie Smith and Mike Martz to look in the mirror and listen to Cutler -- some generous souls would call this coaching -- they've now won five straight essentially because Cutler had taken control of the offense.

Sure, the bend-and-break defense manages its customary share of take-aways that change the game, but make no mistake about why the Bears are where they are today.

It's because Cutler was running the offense.

But hours after the game ended Sunday came the news Cutler suffered a broken right thumb. He stayed in the game and made several plays after suffering the injury, but assuming this sidelines Cutler for any length of time, the Bears are in trouble.

No longer will Cutler be able to tell Martz what to do, and while Smith will lobby for more Matt Forte on the ground, Martz will feel free to wing it -- even with Caleb Hanie at the controls and facing the awful AFC and NFC West divisions the next four games.

Smith must remind Martz the Bears have been winning because Cutler was getting rid of the ball faster and forcing the coordinator to get Forte the ball. He was using simple, safe plays like tight end screens, and Cutler was improvising better than John Belushi on crack.

Even Sunday when they defeated the Chargers 31-20 at Soldier Field, their balance of 27 halfback runs against 31 Cutler pass attempts was just good enough to keep the Chargers guessing, something Martz wouldn't do until Cutler suffered a terrible beating in Detroit and the Bears fell to 2-3.

Since then, Cutler has played very good football, and one can only imagine how much better he would have been if Martz had allowed him to call some plays and, dare we say it -- dare, dare -- audible when necessary.

"We expect it from him because he's that good,'' said Johnny Knox, who caught 3 passes for 97 yards and a TD. "We know to keep moving and get open because Jay will keep the play alive for us.''

Cutler's biggest play probably came with the Bears up 31-20 early in the fourth when Knox slipped, Antoine Cason intercepted the pass and the Chargers' defensive back looked like looked he had an easy 80-yard return for a TD.

But Cutler fought through the blocking and slowed up Cason, who eventually was knocked out of bounds by Forte at the Bears' 16.

Three plays later, Bolts QB Phil Rivers threw one up for grabs in the end zone and it landed softly in the arms of Bears safety Major Wright, the only player with a chance to catch the ball.

That was the ballgame right there.

"No way are Jay and Matt just going to let the guy run down the field and score a touchdown against us,'' said tight end Kellen Davis, who caught a key TD pass at the end of the first half. "We play until the whistle. That's what the Bears do.''

That is what the Bears do. And the Bears also make big plays. It's a big-play league where the margin for error is zero even against bad teams, and the Bears win because they have big-play players.

Devin Hester gives them field position. Julius Peppers forces QBs into terrible throws. Charles Tillman gets beat up and down the field and then forces huge turnovers at crucial moments. Adam Podlesh gets them out of trouble. And Robbie Gould rarely misses.

But Cutler makes the biggest plays, and his biggest Sunday -- on defense -- may very well have been the one that costs the Bears their season.

This is, naturally, the worst news imaginable for Bears fans, that Cutler is finally playing great and now may be lost for a while -- or even the season.

There is, however, some good news amid the misery.

This time, Todd Collins is no longer on the roster.

•Hear Barry Rozner on WSCR 670-AM and follow him @BarryRozner on Twitter.

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