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Doctors say that Jay Cutler is OK to play Sunday against the Vikings

Trainers look Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler (6) after Cutler took late hit by HoustTexans linebacker Tim Dobbins first half

Trainers look at Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler (6) after Cutler took a late hit by Houston Texans linebacker Tim Dobbins in the first half of an NFL football game in Chicago, Sunday, Nov. 11, 2012. The Texans won 13-6. Dobbins was called for an unnecessary roughness penalty on the play. Cutler did not return in the second half after suffering a concussion. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

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Updated: December 26, 2012 9:45AM

Jay Cutler is expected to return to the starting lineup.

And just in the nick of time.

A year ago, when the Bears were 7-3, Cutler was lost for the season with a broken thumb, and they finished 8-8. They’re 7-3 again after consecutive losses, but the Bears are likely to have Cutler under center Sunday at Soldier Field for a key NFC North game against the Minnesota Vikings.

According to two league sources, Cutler was cleared by an independent neurologist on Saturday, the final step in the league’s concussion protocol.

The Bears didn’t make any public statements regarding Cutler’s status, and they won’t have to declare anything until 90 minutes before kickoff.

Cutler was listed as questionable on Friday’s injury report, but the Bears were confident he was ready to play again, pending approval from the independent neurologist.

“He’s getting better,” Bears coach Lovie Smith said Friday. “He was able to do more [Friday] than he did [Thursday]. He’s looking good.

“It’s looking better.”

Asked about the possibility of Cutler’s return, Bears running back Matt Forte said Friday, “It’s always good to have your starter back.

“Jay is very comfortable in this offense and in the passing game especially. We’ve got to get the running game going to help out the passing game.”

There wasn’t much redeeming last Monday in a 32-7 loss in San Francisco.

The 49ers outshined the Bears in every facet, as backup Jason Campbell endured a barrage of hits and sacks that left him with injured ribs this week. 49ers outside linebacker Aldon Smith had 5½ sacks alone, winning the NFC Defensive Player of the Week award.

The Vikings have a player who can wreak that kind of havoc too.

Jared Allen is a four-time Pro Bowler who finished with 22 sacks last season, just a half-sack shy of the record held by New York Giants defensive end Michael Strahan. It wasn’t for a lack of effort; in the finale against the Bears, Allen sacked starter Josh McCown 3½ times.

“Definitely, we will have chip help. He knows that,” Bears offensive coordinator Mike Tice said of Allen. “We’re going to have to make sure that we account for him every play, every time we drop back to throw the ball. We have to make sure we know where he is and find him and make sure we have an answer for that.”

One of the solutions, of course, is having Cutler on the field.

The Bears invested $3.5 million in the veteran Campbell after Caleb Hanie’s disastrous starts last season. With Hanie under center, the Bears lost five consecutive games.

Campbell didn’t fare much better Monday, although few quarterbacks would have thrived — let alone survived — behind the Bears embarrassing pass protection. Although they had a short week, the Bears benched two players — Gabe Carimi and Chilo Rachal — and they hope Jonathan Scott at right tackle and Chris Spencer at left guard can provide some sort of upgrade.

Tice had the line of the week, when he was asked Wednesday if he anticipated Cutler playing against the Vikings.

“God I hope so. I really do,” he said. Then, he swiftly noted that his sentiment was “not anything against Jason.

“Jason did a remarkable job based on the opportunities he was afforded,” Tice said. “But it would be great to get our guy back.”

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