Not only is injured Bears quarterback Jay Cutler back, he's back with no restrictions, no limitations and no holds barred for Sunday's showdown with the Detroit Lions at Soldier Field for first place in the NFC North.
"If I wasn't back to 100 percent, or they had any doubts, I wouldn't have been practicing today," Cutler said Thursday after going through a full session inside the Walter Payton Center. "That was the stipulation. They were going to let Josh (McCown) have another crack at it, and I was going to have to sit this one out."
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McCown replaced Cutler after he suffered a torn groin muscle on Oct. 20 in the 45-41 loss to Washington, and McCown then led the Bears to a 27-20 victory over the Packers Monday night, leaving both teams at 5-3, the same as the Lions.
Cutler was expected to be out 4-6 weeks, and he probably would have been, were it not for an aggressive rehab regimen.
"Since the day he got hurt, he has spent 24-7," coach Marc Trestman said. "He was here the entire bye week. He's done everything he can on and off the field to get ready. The last couple of days he's gone through an excessive protocol to make sure that he was, by doctor's evaluation, cleared to play the game on Sunday. (Thursday) morning, they cleared him to play. He practiced the entire practice, he took every rep, and he had a good practice."
Cutler had planned to go home to Nashville during the bye but instead stayed in Chicago to undergo intensive rehabilitation that included, chiropractic work to expedite soft-tissue healing and use of an ARP (Accelerated Recovery Performance) machine that provides high-intensity electrical stimulation.
"Jay is unique (in that) he really understands his body, and he really understands how to take care of himself," Trestman said. "He's a unique athlete, and I'm sure some of that came into effect. It was an incredible amount of hard work just to get a chance to get to this point. It says a lot about his commitment to the team. He came in (Thursday) morning (for an evaluation), and the doctors said, 'You're good to go.' "
Trestman said there are no plans to limit Cutler on Sunday or tweak the game plan or alter the play-calling in any way as a concession to possibly re-aggravating the injury.
"He's been cleared to play," Trestman said. "If he couldn't do everything that a quarterback has to do in a game on an NFL Sunday, then he wouldn't be out there. The doctors believe that there's nothing that he can't do physically to play the position. We would never put him out there if he wasn't cleared to do everything."
Cutler said he began to feel early last week that he night be able to accelerate the original timetable because of the steady progress he made after the first few painful days. But watching from the sidelines Monday night was a learning experience, he said..
"It's not a perspective I like being in, or really am accustomed to," he said after missing just his ninth start in eight years. "But I saw just how good the offensive line really is and how many weapons we have on the outside and just how hard it is to defend us. That being said, we still have a lot of work to do, and we still haven't arrived where we want to be. But we're definitely heading in the right direction."
Cutler, whose 91.7 passer rating would be his best for a single season, said he also gained a better perspective of Trestman, whose vision and play-calling have helped catapult the Bears to No. 2 in scoring and No. 10 in total yards.
"He's calm," Cutler said. "I don't know how he's so calm. Fourth quarter, we're driving, and it's like he's walking around in the park. He's done it for a long time, though, and he comes into the game very well prepared and watches more film than anybody in the building. It's to be expected."
Depending how he performs after hurrying back, it could have a huge impact on Cutler's future, considering his contract is up after this season. He said that wasn't on his mind as he rehabbed.
"I haven't worried about my contract, period," Cutler said. "That stuff takes care of itself, somehow, some way. My biggest thing was just helping Josh in any way, even though I knew he would be ready, and then get back as soon as possible, so I could help those guys."