A few weeks ago, I stressed the importance of a Bears' victory over the Detroit Lions on November 13th following their week 9 defeat of the Eagles. That win was a big one, and with that win and a victory of the San Diego Chargers last week, both the Bears and Lions are tied for the top contenders for both of the NFC wild card playoff spots with the Bears going into one of the easiest collections of four games that any NFL team has on their schedule!
Jay Cutler broke his thumb in the game against San Diego and may be out for the remainder of the regular season - but should be back in time for the playoffs.
But the win over San Diego did not come without its cost. The Bears suffered several significant injuries, the most prominent being starting quarterback Jay Cutler. I've been very critical of Cutler over the last year and a half, mostly because of his gunslinger habits and poor decision-making. But now that I've seen him play in a more balanced system that gives him time to make throws, I have to say that I've been very impressed with his play this year, so I am disappointed to see him get hurt. Losing your starting quarterback is always a bad sign for any NFL team, but I (as a Bears fan) am not panicking. For the first time since their 2006 playoff run, the Bears actually have a very well-rounded team.
Matt Forte has to be on anybody's short list for MVP candidates, the offensive line is finally plugging its holes, the receiving corps is coming together with the return of Earl Bennett and some consistent play from Roy Williams, and the defense has been steadily improving. So it's not panic time yet. The Bears are currently in control of their destiny. With both games against the Lions out of the way, the Bears are locked into a wildcard berth as long as they can keep one win up on the other NFC wildcard contenders. So the Bears don't need to look for a star to replace Cutler. They just need someone who can manage the game, avoid turnovers, hand the ball off to Matt Forte, and convert a few third downs with his arm.
Caleb Hanie is the current backup, and he can do that. But the Bears might still want to look elsewhere for an experienced quarterback, which makes the recent news out of Denver very interesting. The Broncos have released former starting quarterback (and former Bear) Kyle Orton with $2.5 million left on his contract.
Should the Bears jump on Orton?
Kyle Orton was cut by Denver this week. Could he make a return to Chicago to relieve the injured Jay Cutler?
I'd like to see it happen. But given the stinginess of the Bears' management, and Orton's starter salary, it probably won't happen.
I say: Hell yes!
Orton may not have been able to get the Bears into the playoffs as a starter, but he proved that he could manage the team as a backup as long as he has a solid run game and defense to lean on. Plus, being benched by Denver means he might have a chip on his shoulder and something to prove, which could make the Bears' December 11th game against the Broncos very interesting if the Bears do go after Orton.
Despite my desire to see Orton return to Chicago, I highly doubt that it will happen. Mostly because he will be earning a starter's salary, and the Bears are notorious for their penny-pinching philosophy. Offensive Coordinator Mike Martz has also been molding his offensive scheme around Cutler, who is a mobile quarterback. Over the past few weeks, the Bears have been rolling Cutler out more often, making it slightly easier for the line to protect him, and giving him more room to move around and make plays. Kyle Orton can't do that, which means Martz would have to start falling back to the pocket-passing philosophies of last year and earlier this in, in which the Bears offensive line gave up more sacks than any other team in the league. And Orton isn't exactly great under pressure. He also lacks the arm strength and accuracy to complete the pin-point timing throws that have become a popular option for the Bears' passing game the past month or so.
Regardless of who ends up being the Bears' quarterback in the next week or two, my biggest point of concern is with the offensive line and Matt Forte. Without Cutler in the backfield scrambling and making highlight plays under pressure, defenses will be better able to key in on Forte. And I'm not confident in the line's ability to open up holes against defenses that are geared exclusively towards stopping the run.
UPDATE November 23, 2011 1:26 PM
Kyle Orton was picked up off of waivers by the Kansas City Chiefs, who were higher in the waiver order than Chicago. With Orton unavailable, the Bears have claimed Josh McCown. McCown hasn't played a game since 2009, so he will likely be an emergency option in the event that Hanie gets injured or performs poorly. The Bears also have rookie Nathan Enerle on their roster.
Orton had expressed an interest in returning to Chicago, and the Bears had said that they would be interested in picking up his contract, but sadly, he didn't have any say in the situation, since the Chiefs had the first pick.