The Chicago Bears have a difficult balance to strike in dealing with QB Jay Cutler's concussion situation. As vital as he is to their playoff hopes, the team would be wise to sit its signal caller for Sunday's NFC North showdown with the Minnesota Vikings.
Mark Potash of the Chicago Sun-Times reports that though Cutler practiced on a limited basis, his status for Week 12 remains up in the air.
Unfortunately for any NFL fan that happens to drop in on this marquee matchup, whoever attempts to sling the pigskin around Soldier Field will have to stand behind that putrid Bears offensive line. The unit has been an objectionable sieve since Cutler arrived in Chicago.
Although the Houston Texans didn't sack Cutler in Week 10, they still delivered the knockout blow after he endured several punishing hits throughout the first half.
The pressure ultimately forced two interceptions as well. Even Cutler's quick release and superior arm strength couldn't overcome the woes the Bears continue to experience up front.
In Monday night's key game in San Francisco, Jason Campbell took some thunderous punishment himself. As good as 49ers pass rusher Aldon Smith is, no human should be able to get 5.5 sacks in a game with such relative ease.
Brandon Marshall's presence at receiver has definitely helped Cutler—their chemistry can make up for a lot of the line's shortcomings. But at some point, Bears GM Phil Emery needs to find a way to protect his franchise quarterback.
As is obvious in the context of today's league, concussions are no small matter to deal with, particularly when a player has a track record of multiple experiences with the injury.
Cutler happens to fall into that category: the concussion he suffered against Houston was the third of his pro career and sixth of his life, according to ESPN NFC North blogger Kevin Seifert.
It's pretty difficult to discern what exactly a concussion is even now, as much research has yet to be conducted. It is even possible that concussions may be easier to sustain than originally expected.
Considering that this is Cutler's sixth officially diagnosed concussion—and considering the state of the Bears' offensive line—the seven-year vet will have serious trouble facing the likes of Vikings defensive end Jared Allen screaming into the backfield.
Should Jay Cutler play on Sunday?
Not only is this game huge for the divisional race, but there are also massive NFC playoff implications at stake. Should the Bears lose and the Seattle Seahawks win over a reeling Miami Dolphins team, Lovie Smith's squad will suddenly be fighting to stay a sixth seed against Seattle in Week 13.
That's a far cry from the situation before Cutler went down, when it seemed possible that Chicago could grab the No. 1 seed in the NFC.
Now it will be a struggle just to make the postseason considering the brutal remaining schedule.
This is a classic dilemma: risk putting a player in harm's way for the short-term benefit of the team, while the potentially negative long-term consequences for both the player and the franchise are impossible to perceive.
In Cutler's case, it should be a no-brainer to sit him on Sunday. If the Bears really are a championship-caliber team, they can endure it for one more week.
No matter the incredible stakes, Cutler's health must come first.