The Bears, who came into the game at 7-1 and on the heels of a six-game winning streak, dropped a 13-6 home contest to the dominant Houston Texans and lost quarterback Jay Cutler to a concussion in the process. Cutler was hit hard by Texans linebacker Tim Dobbins in the second quarter of Sunday's loss and was removed from the game at halftime.
According to the Chicago Sun-Times' Mark Potash, Dr. Jeffrey Mjaanes—director of the Chicago Sports Concussion Clinic at Rush Medical Center—said the best-case scenario is that Cutler returns in seven to 10 days. (Mjannes is not treating Cutler.) The Bears could, of course, rush him back faster than that, but everyone is well aware that would be foolish and dangerous.
Also, according to Potash, Bears head coach Lovie Smith said after the game, "If we err, it would be as far as keeping players out longer." That makes a scenario in which Cutler returns in time for next week's game against San Francisco seem very unlikely.
Additionally, there's Cutler's concussion history to consider. According to CBSSports.com's Gene Chamberlain, Sunday night's concussion marks Cutler's third in his NFL career. The first occurred in 2006, and the second occurred in 2010. On top of that, Chamberlain reports (citing The Tennessean) that Cutler suffered three concussions at Vanderbilt prior to coming into the league.
Suddenly, this situation looks a whole lot worse.
This is looking like a case in which Cutler's long-term health could be in jeopardy. The fact that he's had so many concussions is disturbing, and the only good news is that Smith seems to be well aware that bringing his quarterback back too soon would be perilous.
Smith told Chamberlain:
… We have a couple guys and every football team has players who have gone through concussions—but not just a concussion. We do that with all of our players with any injury that they have. We'll never put a guy at risk. No game is that important for us. Of course, the players' health always comes first with everything that we do.
That would seem to suggest that Cutler is going to miss Monday's game at San Francisco, at the very least. It could mean that he's going to miss more time than that.
Further indications that Cutler could be out for at least a week are the fact that the 49ers have 12 quarterback hits in their most recent two games, according to Potash, and the fact that Cutler is notoriously ineffective in the immediate aftermath of injuries.
And none of that is good for the Bears' outlook going forward.
The 49ers are one of the best, if not the best, teams in the NFC, and despite the fact that their offense has certainly not been excellent over the last month, the Bears passing offense is worse, ranking 30th in the league. And that's with Cutler.
But in a strange twist of fate, the 49ers could very likely be without Alex Smith next week after the QB suffered a concussion of his own against the Rams. So this game, depending on what personnel is available, could be a toss-up.
It's the rest of the Bears' schedule from there on out that's troubling. Of their seven remaining games, four of them are against divisional opponents, and two of them are against 6-4 Minnesota.
It's going to be a very tight race in the NFC North, and as it stands, the Bears only have one game on Green Bay, and 1.5 on the Vikings. The Bears are 1-1 in the division, the Packers are 1-0 and the Vikings are 2-0.
Clearly, the Bears really need to win their division matchups, and doing it without Cutler is going to be challenging, to say the least.
Cutler and the Bears have a tough road ahead of them, and we won't know more about where they are headed until more tests are completed on Cutler. But in the span of three days, the Bears' situation went from looking ideal to looking perilous.
Now, the pressure is really on.