Although the Chicago Bears seemed comfortable with a backup quarterback last week, they’ll call on their starter as they try for a second straight victory over a NFC North frontrunner on Sunday.
Looking to build on their latest win, the Bears turn to Jay Cuter against a Detroit Lions team trying to sweep the season series for the first time since 2007.
Coach Marc Trestman confirmed Cutler’s return Thursday following practice, saying doctors have given Cutler the clearance to play. Trestman said Cutler will not be restricted in any way due to the injury.
Cutler suffered the injury in a 45-41 loss at Washington on Oct. 20. The Bears (5-3) had a bye the following week, then Josh McCown started and played all of Monday night’s 27-20 victory at Green Bay.
The win at Lambeau Field moved the Bears into a three-way tie atop the division with the Packers and Detroit (5-3). The Bears understand the emotional victory won’t mean anything unless they can continue to win.
“We’ve still got half the season left, so we’ve got a long way to go,” Chicago defensive end Shea McClellin said.
McClellin recorded three of the team’s season-high five sacks, including the one that broke Aaron Rodgers’ collarbone that has seemingly opened the door for the Bears and Lions in the division.
A team that averaged 23.4 points and 310.6 total yards while going 10-6 and missing the playoffs last season, has thrived under Trestman. Chicago is second in the NFL averaging 30.0 points and 10th at 377.0 total yards per contest.
Cutler has completed 146 of 225 passes for 1,658 yards and 12 touchdowns with seven interceptions.
Behind an improved offensive line, Cutler and McCown have been sacked 12 times. The Bears allowed 28 through the first eight games of 2012.
Matt Forte rushed for a season-high 125 yards, scored his fourth TD in two games and recorded 54 yards through the air at Green Bay. Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery combined for 12 receptions for 167 yards and each had a touchdown.
“We keep getting better and better,” center Roberto Garza told the Bears’ official website. “The guys have a lot of trust in each other.”
Despite being thin at defensive tackle and starting two rookie linebackers, the Bears overcame 199 rushing yards by the Packers to hold them to a season-low 312 total. More importantly, they didn’t allow backup Seneca Wallace to beat them.
The Bears are 29th against the run, allowing 127.5 yards per game, and yielded 139 to Reggie Bush when Detroit snapped a three-game series skid with a 40-32 home win Sept. 29.
Chicago outgained Detroit 417-387, but Bush’s running coupled with three Cutler interceptions and his fumble that was returned for a TD ultimately doomed the Bears.
Though the Lions have dropped six straight division road games and five in a row at Chicago, three of those meetings at Soldier Field have been decided by six points or fewer.
“It’s tough,” said Detroit’s Matthew Stafford, who has completed 60.0 percent of his passes and thrown three TDs and six INTs while going 0-4 at Chicago. “They play pretty well at home like everybody in our division does. It’s a big challenge.”
The Lions are coming off their bye week looking to build on a dramatic 31-30 home win over Dallas on Oct. 27.
Calvin Johnson caught 14 passes and his 329 receiving yards are the second-highest in NFL history. However, it was Stafford’s 1-yard TD plunge with 12 seconds left to cap a six-play, 80-yard drive over 50 seconds that’s likely the most memorable moment of that contest.
It’s that type of victory that has Detroit confident, yet cautious, it can win the team’s first division title since 1993.
“We are only halfway through the season and the tale of this season is not going to be written in the first half, it is going to be written in the second half and that is what we have to concentrate on,” coach Jim Schwartz told the Lions’ official website.
Though Johnson has recorded 23 of his 47 receptions, 484 of his 821 receiving yards and scored three times in the last two games, the Bears have done a good job of shutting him down. He’s been held to 19 catches, 231 yards and only a touchdown in the September meeting over his last four versus Chicago.
Forte, who gained 53 of his 95 rushing yards at Detroit this season on a second-quarter TD run, has averaged 88.4 per game and 5.0 per carry in 11 career contests against the Lions.
Jeffery has topped the 100-yard receiving mark in three of the last five games, beginning with 107 and a touchdown on five receptions at Detroit.
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