Jay Cutler: Bears Can't Maintain NFC North Lead Without Starting QB

Matt FitzgeraldCorrespondent IIINovember 16, 2012

CHICAGO, IL - NOVEMBER 11:  Quarterback Jay Cutler #6 of the Chicago Bears looks to pass over outside linebacker Brooks Reed #58 of the Houston Texans in the first quarter of the game at Soldier Field on November 11, 2012 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The Chicago Bears may have a stonewall, high-scoring defense, but without Jay Cutler under center to stabilize the QB situation, the team won't be able to maintain its NFC North lead.

In hot pursuit are the Green Bay Packers, fresh off a bye and in the midst of a four-game winning streak. They sit just one game back at 6-3, while the Bears are licking their wounds from a home loss to the Houston Texans, the AFC's best team.

In the case of Cutler, he is continuing to improve from the concussion he suffered on a vicious hit in the second quarter, but he remains questionable for Week 11's key Monday night showdown in San Francisco. He did not practice on Thursday (h/t AP).

Bears reporter Sean Jensen of the Chicago Sun-Times didn't feel confident in a Friday morning tweet Cutler would play, either:

My gut feeling: #Bears QB Jay Cutler will not play Monday night against the 49ers.

— Sean Jensen (@seankjensen) November 16, 2012

As unfair as back quarterback Jason Campbell's career arguably is to date, it won't be helped by going on the road for his first Bears start against a premier defense like the Niners'. It also won't result in a win for Chicago no matter how well the defense plays.

The Pack does have to travel to Detroit to take on the Lions, but thanks to a tiebreaker courtesy of a Week 2 victory over the Bears, Green Bay would take the NFC North lead should it notch its fifth consecutive victory and Chicago lose.

The unfortunate aspect about Cutler's injury is that it's his third concussion of his pro career (h/t MyFOXChicago.com), which not only puts him at further risk for more in the future, but also can't be good for his long-term health.

He took a lot of flack for leaving the NFC Championship Game two years ago, but he has proven he's one of the toughest QBs in the league, frequently getting pummeled by inconsistent pass protection.

Chicago may want to get some help up front to protect their prized, gunslinging QB. After rolling to a 7-3 start in 2011, Cutler broke his thumb—albeit not on a protection issue—and the Bears dropped their next five to miss the playoffs.

Now the team is in grave danger of falling to that same mark this season without Cutler under center. His value to the team is underrated, and without a surefire backup to turn to and the Minnesota Vikings still lurking at 6-4, the Bears could find themselves suddenly slipping not only in the North division, but also in the NFC playoff picture in general.

After San Fran, the schedule gets no easier, with Seattle sandwiched between two games against Minnesota. In the final three weeks: home against Green Bay, and road trips to Detroit and Arizona.

Obviously his health is the primary concern, but Cutler must ideally return soon if the Bears want to keep their Super Bowl aspirations alive.