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SportsMonday: Rivers Down, Cutler Out

Before we embark on a discussion of whether the fracture is in the distal or proximal phalange and whether collateral damage was done to the (ulnar) collateral ligament, attention must be paid to at least some of the details of the Bears' fifth consecutive victory, the one that elevated them to 7-3 overall.

Jay Cutler's broken thumb notwithstanding, this 31-20 victory over San Diego featured prominent players making memorable plays for good and for ill. Let's start by shining a bright light on an extremely talented and particularly irritating opponent who is experiencing heaping helpings of comeuppance this fall.

About a month ago cocky Charger quarterback Philip Rivers, who has clearly rubbed Cutler the wrong way when the two have faced off in the past, blew a game when all he needed to do was get his hands around a snap and execute a simple hand-off to kill the rest of the clock and set up a last-second field goal. Instead he fumbled the ball and the Chiefs recovered. Rather than kicking a short field goal to win in the final seconds of regulation, Rivers' team went on to lose to Kansas City in overtime.

After the fumble, television cameras caught Rivers on the sideline mouthing "the worst day ever," though he claimed later it was only the worst play ever.

Well if he thought that was bad, check out this sequence.

Just as he had on the Chargers' previous possession, Rivers simply didn't see the Bear defensive back who was right there to grab this unbelievably bad pass. Corey Graham's pick wasn't as easy as Major Wright's earlier in the quarter, but the fact that Graham even had any chance whatsoever to make the play was mind-boggling.

And while we're at it, let's make fun of the opposing coach as well. Woo boy did Norv Turner step in it when he challenged a non-fumble call with about three minutes left. Not only did he lose the challenge but he obviously should have called for it before he called a timeout. That way, even if he lost the challenge, he only lost a timeout he was going to take anyway. Instead he called the timeout initially, had the time to assess whether a challenge was a good idea and had to know that it would almost certainly fail, challenged anyway, lost and therefore lost a second (and his team's final) timeout. It was positively Lovie-esque.

Then again, while Lovie may struggle with challenges, his biggest strength as a coach is evident in games like this. The Bears came into this one having scored two huge victories the previous weeks against potential fellow wild card contenders Philadelphia and Detroit. It would have been easy to have a letdown against an AFC foe that desperately needed to win to avoid a five-game losing streak.

But the best thing about Lovie's even-keeled-at-all-times demeanor is that his teams keep it even-keeled as well. They don't get too high one week and then bottom out the next (unlike the media). And that translates into wins like this one.

As for that aforementioned fake punt, it was the second time this season that one of Dave Toub's units has attempted a beautifully conceived but brutally timed trick play. The Devin Hester fake punt return in the final minute against the Packers early in the season was genius. But even if it hadn't been called back due to penalty, the Bears still would have trailed in the game, would have had very little time left and would've needed a successful onside kick and last-minute drive to complete a comeback. It would have clearly been better to have run the play at a different time.

This time, the pass out of punt formation was obviously there but when Adam Podlesh overthrew Craig Steltz the Bears gave the Chargers a boost just when it looked like they had absolutely no chance to come back. They were still long shots but the shot was much shorter than it would have been had they been pinned deep in their territory.

Then again, maybe the better field position caused Rivers to be overconfident and throw that immediately infamous interception.

The biggest highlight for the Bears had to be Cutler's two big second-half passes to Johnny Knox. The first took the ball down inside the five right before the Bear's second-to-last touchdown. The second was the Bears' final touchdown and sealed up the game.

On both of those plays, Cutler went ahead and trusted a teammate with whom he has had a shaky relationship in the past to make a tough play when he was seemingly covered. And sure, it was Knox falling down that led to the pick that announcers were initially saying led to Cutler's injury but still, Cutler and Knox took a big step forward on Sunday.

And note must be taken of how cool it was - heck, it was positively serendipitous - that Tyler Clutts, claimed off the scrap heap right before the season started, was ready and willing to fill in when the unthinkable happened: long snapper Patrick Mannelly was hurt during the game. Clutts came through with several point-after snaps in addition to his one perfect punt snap.

I actually don't know if Cutler's fracture is in the top half or the bottom half of his thumb or any other details of the injury. I do know it has been casually reported in the past couple weeks that Ben Roethlisberger has broken his throwing thumb and plans to play through the injury as he apparently did in 2005 when he led the Steelers to a Super Bowl victory as a rookie.

I don't know the details of the injury but I do know plenty of intrigue and controversy await. In other words, it's just another day on the Bears beat.

See also: Official NFL Highlights.

Thumb Crumbs
* "Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler likely will undergo surgery on a broken thumb on his throwing hand, league sources told NFL Network insider Jason La Canfora on Sunday night."

* Is His Season Over?

* Who Is Caleb Hanie?

* 10:10 A.M. UPDATE: Cutler surgery scheduled for Tuesday; Bears say he could be back before the end of the season.


Comments welcome.

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