Yes, Bears fans, it's safe to exhale
Jay Cutler can render you breathless.
He can do it with a bullet pass for a touchdown, a mad scramble for a first down or a snotty response at a news conference.
Most of all, Cutler can do it when he's slammed to the turf, is slow to get up and goes to the locker room for what is announced as a "ribs evaluation."
That's what happened Monday night during the second quarter of the Bears' 13-7 victory over the Detroit Lions.
"It definitely scared us when he went down," wide receiver Brandon Marshall said.
Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, all 307 pounds of him, grabbed Cutler by a shoulder and drove him deep into Soldier Field.
Defensive end Lawrence Jackson, all 271 pounds of him, bumped Cutler on the way down, too.
Together those Lions represented 578 pounds of trouble for the Bears.
The "ribs evaluation" turned out to be positively negative enough for Cutler to return for the second half.
"Jay Cutler has bruised ribs," head coach Lovie Smith said.
Whew, instead of the air being let out of the building, 60,574 Bears fans were pumped back up.
Signs were that the play was nothing more than a reminder that this season remains fragile despite the Bears' 5-1 record.
Even on a night when Cutler did little that was special, the quarterback has to be the oxygen for the Bears to be however good they can be.
Cutler didn't throw the ball particularly well in the first half, then looked like he had trouble following through on some throws in the second half.
"He came out in the second half and performed well enough to get a win," Smith said.
Who knows, maybe the ribs are sound enough to play but sore enough to be problematic?
"I wasn't exactly 100 percent," Cutler said, "but you have to fight through it."
One more play, one more hit, one more freakish fall with the weight of the world and two defenders on Cutler ... everything changes.
All of Chicago and surrounding communities learned that last year when another Cutler injury essentially ended the Bears' playoff hopes.
The Bears are supposed to be better prepared for a similar catastrophe in 2012 with Jason Campbell replacing Caleb Hanie as the replacement quarterback.
The Bears really don't want to have to find out.
General manager Phil Emery refers to Cutler as a cornerstone of the Bears' franchise. So when the quarterback is on the ground in pain, his team is too.
You can have all the takeaways the defense provides and all the tall receivers and everything else, but they likely aren't enough if the starting quarterback is gone.
None of this is to say that Cutler can take the Bears to a championship. This is his seventh NFL season, he's still trying to prove himself and another serious injury would hurt in more ways then one.
"He's a tough guy," Smith said of Cutler. "Most people thought Jay would get up. Unless it's a broken leg or something like that, he's going to get up."
Maybe seeing Cutler on the grass wasn't as excruciating as seeing Derrick Rose on the hardcourt last spring.
Or maybe it was, considering these are the Bears and nothing in Chicago sports is as important.
For the civic good, hopefully everyone can inhale and exhale and Cutler continues breathing life into this Bears season.
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