Kyle Schwarber’s not the only Chicago athlete making a surprise return from injury this week.
Brian Hoyer’s snapped left arm means Jay Cutler is back, and injured thumb be damned. If he can grip he can throw, and if he can throw we can win.
No seriously — Jay is surprisingly successful overall returning from injury, as are the Bears. But that “overall” is a killer, because there are two games in his career where coming back too early hurt him.
What’s more, these five games is the longest stretch Cutler has missed consecutively during a season in which he returned from an injury.
We’ll see on Monday if this is one of those “Uh oh!” Cutler injury days. This will be Cutler’s 100th start with the Bears, with his record at 50-49. A loss brings him to .500 and the Bears to 1-7 entering the bye week.
And speaking of scary, Jay’s return takes place on Halloween. Since the threat of injury is always stalking football players, especially quarterbacks, let’s grade Cutler’s seven back-from-injury games on the Michael-Myers-is-trying-to-murder-me scale, 10 being the worst possible effects from injury, 1 being the least.
(All stats courtesy of pro-football-reference.com, mostly from here.)
2010 Week 6 vs. Seahawks
Games missed: one (Bears won)
Cause: concussion (9 sacks in the Meadowlands!)
Stats: 290 yards, 0 TD, 0 INT, 1 fumble he recovered in the endzone for a safety, 69.4 rating
Result: Bears lose, 23-20
Diagnosis: Until 2013, this was Jay’s worst first-game-back as a Bear. He faced an absolute blitzkrieg two weeks earlier against the Giants, (horrifying video below) and I doubt he would have played against the Seahawks if not for the poor showing in Week 5 by backup Todd Collins, who got the win in spite of himself.
Cutty returned against the Seahawks and looked shaky all day. He threw four interceptions the following week (the DeAngelo Hall game) and then had a bye. Bears won five straight after that, at which point Jay was back.
Michael-Myers-is-trying-to-murder-me scale: 9 of 10
2011 Week 1 vs. Falcons
Games missed: half (Bears lost)
Cause: torn MCL
Stats: 312 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT, 107.8 rating
Result: Bears win, 30-12
Diagnosis: Jay’s torn MCL from the NFC championship game was a thing of the ancient past. He was terrific in this Week 1 game, with no significant rust.
Michael-Myers-is-trying-to-murder-me scale: 1 of 10
2012 Week 1 vs. Colts
Games missed: six (Bears lost five of six)
Cause: broken right thumb
Stats: 333 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT, 98.9 rating
Result: Bears win, 41-21
Diagnosis: This was Jay’s first real game after missing the final six of 2011 with a broken right thumb. He began the game with a pick-six to future teammate Jerrell Freeman on the game’s first drive, one of the worst balls I've seen him throw as a Bear.
But that was that. The rest of the way he was masterful, with 333 yards and 2 TD, including one 42-yarder in the back of the endzone to rookie receiver Alshon Jeffery.
Michael-Myers-is-trying-to-murder-me scale: 2 of 10
2012 Week 12 vs. Vikings
Games missed: one (Bears lost)
Stats: 188 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT, 86.5 rating
Result: Bears win, 28-10
Diagnosis: This was another game Jay might not have played in had the backup quarterback played better in his absence. Against Houston, he took a vicious head shot (below) and missed the following week against San Francisco. In his first career start, 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick toasted the Bears D while Chicago starter Jason Campbell struggled. That brought Jay back the following week against Minnesota.
It’s tough to gauge the effect of Cutler’s concussion on the rest of his season. His splits are pretty even:
Pre-injury: 8 games, completed 59.7% of his passes, 12 TDs, 8 INTs, 85.3 rating
Post-injury: 6 games, 58.1%, 7 TDs, 4 INTs, 82.6 rating
He undoubtedly had his roughest stretch of the season during the four games after the Vikings game: three losses, three games with a rating under 80, 53.9% passing, 5 TDs, 3 INTs, 7 sacks, 78.1 rating. This was the stretch that knocked the Bears out of the playoffs.
Michael-Myers-is-trying-to-murder-me scale: 6 of 10
2013 Week 10 vs. Lions
Games missed: one (Bears lost)
Stats: 250 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT, 69.8 rating
Result: Bears lose, 21-19
Diagnosis: Remember when I said there were two games where Cutler definitely returned too early? This was the other one. Against Washington in Week 7, Jay suffered a brutal groin injury (below) — when he staggered off the field, it was the first time I remember watching him walk in a way where you KNEW he was hurt. His body folded on a hit.
The following week was the bye, and the week after we beat the Packers in Josh McCown’s Magical Lambeau Journey.
The week after that, despite being projected to miss a minimum of four weeks, Cutler returned against the Lions. He looked stiff and uneasy all game, and finally came out for the final drive after injuring his ankle.
McCown drove the Bears for a touchdown. Cutler missed the next four weeks.
Michael-Myers-is-trying-to-murder-me scale: 10 of 10
2013 Week 15 vs. Browns
Games missed: four (Bears split)
Cause: ankle, groin
Stats: 265 yards, 3 TD, 2 INT, 102.2 rating
Result: Bears win, 38-31
Diagnosis: Now fully healthy, Jay returned in Week 15 against Cleveland and looked great. Yes, he threw two interceptions early, but he threw three TDs after that and led the Bears to a crucial win.
More importantly, the difference between his body language, throwing motion, and pocket mobility between this game and the Lions game was plain to see.
Michael-Myers-is-trying-to-murder-me scale: 3 of 10
2015 Week 4 vs. Raiders
Games missed: one (Bears lost)
Stats: 281 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT, 89.4 rating
Result: Bears win, 22-20
But yes, hamstring it was, and he missed the next week against Seattle, the famed “10 for 10” game — as in 10 possessions, 10 punts.
Like with Collins and Campbell before him, Cutler again needed to save the team from an inefficient backup QB with a C-name (in this case, Jimmy Clausen). And save them he did! Jay wasn’t great, but he was good enough to lead the Bears to a last-second win, their first of the season.
Michael-Myers-is-trying-to-murder-me scale: 4 of 10