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Long offseason ahead for Bears QB Cutler

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Dan Parr

dparr@pfwmedia.com
Associate editor

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Posted Jan. 23, 2011 @ 9:26 p.m. ET
By Dan Parr

At the conclusion of a season in which the Bears surprised league observers, advancing deep into the playoffs when few expected them to, their final game will not be looked upon as favorably as the road they took to get there. Chicago's 21-14 loss to the rival Packers in the NFC championship game was a devastating blow for the franchise and its fans, and it put the losing quarterback, Jay Cutler, squarely in a spotlight that he doesn't relish.

In his second postseason start, Cutler struggled before leaving the game after Chicago's first offensive series of the third quarter with a bad knee.

He sustained the injury on the last series of the first half, according to head coach Lovie Smith. Backup Todd Collins nearly threw two interceptions before being pulled for emergency QB Caleb Hanie in the third quarter.

Hanie, who had 14 career passing attempts heading into Sunday's battle, was under center for the Bears on their only two scoring drives of the game, but he also threw two interceptions. Both were costly. The first was returned for a touchdown, giving Green Bay a 21-7 lead, and the second one killed a potential game-tying drive, sealing the Packers' win in the final minute.

While Hanie's performance might have left a positive impression on the Bears and other teams in need of help at quarterback, Cutler will head into the offseason still trying to prove that he belongs in the league's elite class of QBs.

After having one of his most impressive performances of the season against the Seahawks one week earlier, Cutler completed only 6-of-14 passes for 80 yards and an interception before departing. His toughness was called into question by some observers, including former and current NFL players. Twitter and other Web sites were ablaze with blistering critiques as he stood on the sideline in the second half against Green Bay, but Cutler said after the game that he wanted to keep playing and that others made the decision to pull him.

"It's a lonely feeling to fight and go through training camp and everything else and get to this point and have an opportunity to get in the Super Bowl," Cutler said. "It's hard. … I was going to keep playing. They made the decision that giving (Collins) a shot would better suit the team."

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