One would have to wonder if recently concussed quarterback Jay Cutler would even have a chance of playing in Week 12—or beyond—if he were under center during the Chicago Bears' Monday Night Football meltdown against the San Francisco 49ers.
The top team in the NFC West dominated the Bears offensive line all game long, sacking quarterback Jason Campbell six times—49ers linebacker Aldon Smith being responsible for 5.5 of those. Campbell, an eight-year veteran, looked like a third-string rookie getting his first NFL start.
It wasn't just ugly, it was absolutely unbearable to watch.
Looking back on that game, the Bears are actually lucky it wasn't Cutler under center. Would they have maybe had a better chance of winning the game? Absolutely, but they would have been risking the rest of Cutler's season.
The Bears haven't reached 7-3 without strong play from the entire team, but too many mistakes from this offensive line will be the last nail in the coffin in a season that has been strong so far.
If the Bears truly have aspirations of being Super Bowl champions, the offensive line needs to start picking up the rush and keeping their quarterback's back and face off the ground.
Can the Bears turn things around with a healthy Jay Cutler?
The Bears got a major wake-up call on Monday night.
They should be happy they didn't have their biggest game changer on the field. The team now has to make some major adjustments; otherwise, putting Cutler on the field is just asking to end his season early for a second consecutive year.
That's the thing—three straight seasons of poor offensive line play. Why is it going to change now, and how could fans expect it to? Fact is, they shouldn't. Mike Tice has a lot of work to do. His focus should be on planning schemes, but it almost seems more important for him to take the time to make sure the line provides adequate protection to make those schemes possible.
This offensive line has so much to prove that at this point in the season it's almost impossible to believe they are suddenly going to start protecting the quarterback and begin opening holes for running back Matt Forte.
Things don't get any easier in Week 12.
The Minnesota Vikings visit Soldier Field, bringing with them their talented pass-rusher Jared Allen.
The Bears need to make some major changes, and they need to make them quick. Cutler's status is still up the in the air, but the line needs to be able to protect either the starter or whoever is under center to keep them in the race for the NFC North.
The other obvious need is for the defense to keep playing at a high level, something that wasn't anywhere to be found in San Francisco. This veteran defense should find their way back to that elite status, but that won't matter until the offensive line learns to protect the players standing behind them.
If Cutler goes this week the Bears will have their best shot at winning, but that shot will not be attainable unless he can trust his line and stay on his feet to make plays.
There is still plenty of time left this season, but with each passing week it is becoming more and more crucial for the Bears' offensive line to begin making things happen on a consistent basis.