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Jay Cutler's injury dashes hopes, throws Bears' future into uncertainty

It's Jimmy Clausen time for Bears with Jay Cutler injured.

Six seconds. That's all it took for Jay Cutler to go from quarterback to defender to training room patient on Sunday.

And when it was over — after Cardinals safety Tony Jefferson's stiff arm secured his path to the end zone and left Cutler tumbling on the grass — the Bears faced a new set of questions about their quarterback situation to accompany a grisly 48-23 loss on the lakefront.

Cutler left the game with what coach John Fox called a pulled hamstring, suffered in pursuit on Jefferson's 26-yard interception return for a touchdown. Cutler landed hard on his right side, but Fox indicated there was no upper-body injury.

Jimmy Clausen took over, and the offense gained only one first down on his first five possessions. That allowed the Cardinals to pull away and send the Bears to their first 0-2 start since 2003.

"Any time you put a quarterback in that has gotten backup reps during the week, I think it's tough," Fox said. "All in all, I thought he did the best he could, and that's all you can ask for as a coach."

Fox, in his characteristically protective manner, would not say whether Cutler would return this season. Although a run-of-the-mill hamstring strain typically sidelines a player for a couple of weeks, Cutler's status is open-ended. Clausen is the starter until further notice.

"It takes awhile to run tests," Fox said. "Our medical people will inform me, and then I will inform you."

Cutler was not available for comment; he left Soldier Field by the time the game ended, Clausen said. In his stead, tight end Martellus Bennett described the sequence that dashed the Bears' productive start and clouded their future.

Before the interception, Cutler completed all eight of his passes and loosened the defense with several zone-read option plays. But, with the Bears trailing 21-14 in the second quarter, it turned for worse on second-and-9 from their 21-yard line.

Bennett said he carried out his assignment of a "jerk" route, a designed hesitation on a shallow cross.

"When I set down, I can give a double move," he said. "Usually, I clap when I'm ready for the ball. But it's a jerk route, so it can go either way. But those are plays we need to make and we make all the time. We've run those routes so many times."

So either Cutler saw something in the defense that made him expect Bennett to completely stop, or he just missed the throw. Fox called it a poorly executed sight adjustment without assigning blame. Whatever the cause, the ball sailed well behind Bennett and into Jefferson's arms.

"I tried to disguise, act like I was going to cover high, and he didn't really see that I was going to come down and play man on (Bennett)," Jefferson said. "I don't think Cutler knew what Bennett was doing."

Cutler tried to tackle Jefferson by cutting him, leading with his right shoulder. He got up, unhooked his chin strap with his right hand and spoke quickly to coordinator Adam Gase on the sideline. Within moments, he was walking to the locker room alongside trainers.

In came Clausen, the same quarterback who replaced Cutler when he was benched in Week 16 last season.

"I felt the air was deflated a little bit, but guys did a great job just trying to, 'Let's go, let's go, let's go,'" Clausen said.

They had chances to make it work too. Before halftime, the Bears gained possession at the Cardinals' 22 and 12 off separate turnovers. But they settled for field goals both times.

Clausen was sacked on his first dropback of the second half and intercepted on his second. He finished 14-of-23 passing for 121 yards and a 56.6 passer rating.

Afterward, he kept his focus forward, envisioning the possibility of practicing all week with the first-team offense ahead of Sunday's road game against Seahawks.

Can he operate the offense as well as Cutler?

"Yeah, I can," he said. "That's what we're going to do starting on Tuesday is work to get this thing going again."

rcampbell@tribpub.com

Twitter @Rich_Campbell

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