CHICAGO – You knew it, I knew it, and every fan watching the game at Soldier Field knew it.
Bears quarterback Jay Cutler was not 100 percent healthy Sunday. Nowhere close.
Guess who else knew it?
Hint: It’s the team that now stands alone in first place in the NFC North.
“We knew that his mobility probably wouldn’t be 100 percent,” Detroit Lions defensive tackle Nick Fairley said in a noisy visitors’ locker room after a 21-19 win against the Bears. “But at the same time, Cutler’s a competitor. He’s a strong guy. We just knew that no matter what, we couldn’t come in thinking that he was going to be a sitting duck, which he wasn’t.”
Maybe Cutler wasn’t a sitting duck, but he most definitely was a sitting Bear.
To say Cutler lacked mobility in the pocket would be like saying Kim Kardashian lacked the science scores to become an astronaut. Cutler made some nice passes, particularly early in the game, but his physical limitations were so blatant that much of the game turned into Josh McCown Watch, waiting for the healthy backup to replace his injured colleague.
Perhaps nobody on the Lions’ sideline knows Cutler and McCown better than defensive lineman Israel Idonije, who spent nine seasons with the Bears before departing via free agency this summer. Idonije is smart enough to know that it’s tough to return ahead of schedule from a torn groin muscle, and he’s nice enough to speak honestly rather than mutter non-answers.
What was Idonije’s take on Cutler?
“He’s a tough competitor,” Idonije said. “He’s not going to give you any tells as far as [an injury]. He conducted himself how he always is.
“But we knew that he was coming back early from a pretty significant injury, so they were going to limit him as far as mobilitywise.”
What can a defense do against a quarterback who is limited?
“When you know a guy is limited, you’ve got to force him to move, put him in situations where he’s got to move,” Idonije said. “I’m not sure what happened. He got hit a couple times, and you saw him getting up and he was trying to loosen that thing up. You could tell he was a little sore.”
As Idonije spoke, his words caught the attention of happy locker mate Ndamukong Suh, who already had completed his media session and was preparing to leave the stadium.
“You talking about loosening something up?” Suh interrupted with a mischievous grin.
Idonije answered Suh’s question with a patient smile.
“He was trying to loosen up that groin after you hit him a couple times,” Idonije said.
Some how, at that particular moment, I doubted that the Bears’ locker room was quite as jubilant.
For what it’s worth, nobody in the Lions’ locker room questioned Cutler’s toughness. Instead, they shook their heads and marveled at how Cutler was able to stay in the game despite the fact he absorbed a slew of hits and appeared to be in significant pain.
“Cutler, he’s not going to show you that he’s hurt,” Fairley said. “He’s not going to show you that he’s down. Every time we hit him, he bounced back up. It was like, [dang], ain’t this guy [injured], you know what I’m saying? He’s a strong individual, he’s a competitor, so we knew he was going to keep on bringing it every time.”
But a hobbled Cutler could bring the Bears only so far.
Which brings us to the first-place Lions and their healthy outlook going forward.
“The energy is where it should be at this point in the year,” Idonije said. “We know we’re a good team. We know we’re talented. Wins like the one two weeks ago, wins like this win, solidify that culture and that identity.”
The truth hurts.
• Shaw Media sports columnist Tom Musick can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @tcmusick.