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MORRISSEY: A thud in the mud as the Texans clock Cutler

Bears quarterback Jay Cutler slides stop first down second quarter Chicago Bears-HoustTexans game Sunday November 11 2012 Chicago. | Tom

Bears quarterback Jay Cutler slides to a stop and a first down in the second quarter of the Chicago Bears-Houston Texans game Sunday November 11, 2012 in Chicago. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Updated: January 11, 2013 1:46AM



The problem wasn’t just that Jay Cutler suffered a concussion against the Houston Texans on Sunday night. It was that he and the Bears played as if they were concussed for most of the first half.

They looked lost in a fog, even if fog seemed to be the one weather condition that didn’t report for duty at Soldier Field.

With the San Francisco 49ers’ Alex Smith leaving his game Sunday with a concussion, it creates the possibility of a titanic Nov. 19 match-up between the Bears’ Jason Campbell and the 49ers’ Colin Kaepernick. And who doesn’t want to see that quarterback battle royale?

Cutler suffered his concussion sometime in the second quarter of the Texans’ 13-6 victory, possibly on a hit by linebacker Tim Dobbins, who was called for unnecessary roughness. Cutler’s second interception of the first half might have been a result of that wooziness. He didn’t come back for the second half.

‘‘We’re not ruling Jay out,’’ coach Lovie Smith said of the San Francisco game.

We don’t — and won’t — know the severity of his injury, but the Bears will have to take into consideration his history of concussions, which goes back at least to his days at Vanderbilt. It’s not one of Cutler’s favorite topics, and he has been very closed-mouthed about it in the past.

His concussions had nothing to do with the two fumbles the Bears lost in the first half Sunday. And they couldn’t explain how the Texans did a dead-on impression of the ball-hawking Bears defense.

In the offseason, the Bears had brought in the veteran Campbell as the steady hand they were missing when Cutler got hurt last year. He looked very good on a 45-yard completion to Brandon Marshall in the third quarter Sunday. But the Bears had to settle for three points on the drive. The offensive tire-spinning would be the story of the evening.

Cutler had to be warmed by Campbell’s decision to throw the ball to Marshall on every pass play. Just like the starting quarterback does it!

If Cutler can’t play against the 49ers, ‘‘there’s not going to be any drop-off in our offense,’’ Marshall declared. It’s the kind of bold, I’ve-got-your back statement starters often make about backups. But no one can say it with any certainty, not when Campbell hasn’t had a meaningful snap since training camp.

Go ahead and say Sunday’s conditions prevented a fair test between two 7-1 teams. You might even be right. What you can’t say is that the rain, wind and mud favored one team over another. The Texans aren’t mudders. Neither are the Bears. Muddled, maybe.

What we had here were two evenly matched teams playing in bad weather. It was as messy as real life. It was also entertaining, if you lean toward slapstick or masochism or both.

The Texans tore a page out of the Bears’ book. Or ripped it out. Or punched it out. Whatever, they forced two fumbles (one from the dreadful Kellen Davis) and picked off two Cutler passes in the first half.

He had one of his worst halves as a Bear, and that’s saying something. He forced passes. He threw off his back foot.

It was so bad that somebody should have taken him aside and told him to be a game manager: Play it safe, don’t throw it to the other team and let our defense win it for us. You know, what the Bears used to tell all those other quarterbacks who had scuffled through here the last 20 years. On Sunday, being a game manager in the grand tradition of Caleb Hanie wasn’t such a bad idea.

Who knows — the Bears might have preserved their starting quarterback if Smith or offensive coordinator Mike Tice had told Cutler to be a bit more prudent. It wasn’t as if the Bears had been going anywhere; they had phenomenal field position in the first half and settled for three points. Committing more to the running game might have helped.

Some Bears said they couldn’t tell there was something wrong with Cutler when they saw him at halftime.

‘‘Jay’s a tough guy,’’ Campbell said. ‘‘He tried to keep fighting through it. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to keep going. They tried to make the smart decision and do the right thing at this point in the season.’’

Asked what Cutler’s symptoms were, Smith said, ‘‘I try not to be Dr. Smith very often.’’ He did say those symptoms subsided during halftime.

The strange thing about Sunday’s game is that the much-criticized offensive line played fairly well. Cutler might have been hurt trying to make a play near the line of scrimmage. He probably wasn’t injured by a defensive lineman trying to plant him in the mud like a tree sapling.

But that’s how it went Sunday. Danieal Manning, the ex-Bears defensive back, had an interception and forced a fumble in the first half, the kind of game a player dreams of having against his former team.

You can’t blame the Bears’ defense, especially Tim Jennings, for what happened. Jennings twice picked off Matt Schaub in the first half.

As the game went on, the rain moved like a procession of ghosts in the glare of the stadium lights. It fit the mood of the Bears’ night. They lost a quarterback and a football game, but it wasn’t weather-related. It was turnover-related and Texans-related. A perfect storm.



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