Bears Place Cutler, Forte on IR

The moves on Tuesday were hardly surprising given Chicago’s recent struggles. The Bears (7-8) have lost five straight since Cutler broke his right thumb late in a win over San Diego on Nov. 20, and things took another bad turn two weeks later when Forte sprained the medial collateral ligament in his right knee against Kansas City.

Cutler, who was scheduled to have surgically inserted pins removed Tuesday, threw for 2,319 yards with 13 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Forte finished with 997 yards rushing and 490 receiving.

The Bears elevated defensive tackle Jordan Miller from the practice squad and signed guard Mansfield Wrotto.

Cutler’s injury sent Chicago into a tailspin, knocking out of contention a team that appeared on its way to the playoffs after last year’s run to the NFC title game. The Bears were mathematically eliminated with a loss at Green Bay on Sunday, but they probably weren’t going to make it by the time they arrived at Lambeau Field.

One reason for that was the lack of a reliable backup quarterback.

Chicago put in a waiver claim on Kyle Orton after Cutler went down, but Kansas City had priority and got him. The Bears wound up signing Josh McCown, who was coaching quarterbacks at a North Carolina high school, and passed on going after Donovan McNabb after Minnesota let him go.

Meanwhile, backup Caleb Hanie struggled in a big way and went 0-4 as the starter. McCown got the nod against the Packers and performed better, throwing for 242 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions in his first NFL appearance since 2009, but the Bears saw their playoff hopes vanish in a 35-21 loss.

A healthy Forte might have made a difference, but his season ended when he took a hit to the knee against Kansas City. It didn’t help that backup Marion Barber committed costly mistakes in losses to the Chiefs and Denver the following week.

He had a touchdown catch in a 10-3 loss to Kansas City called off because he lined up illegally, forcing Chicago to settle for a field goal, and things only got worse for him the following week. Barber got pushed out of bounds on a run near the end of regulation, helping give Denver enough time to tie the game. In overtime, his fumble led to the winning field goal.

Palko Comes Back, Leads Chiefs Over Bears 10-3

He was racking up the interceptions at an alarming rate after replacing the injured Matt Cassel and watched as the Kansas City Chiefs brought in Kyle Orton, so this certainly had to feel better.

Yes, he got yanked from the game on Sunday. He also made a case to save his job.

Palko shook off two miserable starts and threw for 157 yards and a touchdown even though he briefly got lifted for Kyle Orton, and the Chiefs beat Chicago 10-3 Sunday on a day when the Bears lost Matt Forte to a sprained right knee.

“I’ve been around football a long time, and you know that there’s a lot of ups and downs that go with it,” Palko said. “When you’re a quarterback and you’re responsible for those turnovers those first two games and the defense is playing so well, it stings. It stings deep down in your gut. You’re not trying to throw interceptions. You’re not trying to put your team in a bad position, and it stings. You’ve got to live with that for the whole week.”

This will sit better with him.

Palko completed 17 of 30 passes without an interception after getting picked off three times in his first two starts following Matt Cassel’s season-ending hand injury, and the Chiefs snapped their four-game losing streak.

Orton took just one snap at the start of the second quarter and left the game with an injured right index finger.

Coach Todd Haley didn’t have an update on the injury after the game.

Palko connected with Dexter McCluster on a wild 38-yard pass to end the first half on a ball that got deflected by Brian Urlacher and Chris Conte, giving the Chiefs a 7-3 lead and their first touchdown in three games.

Kansas City (5-7) got a 21-yard field goal from Ryan Succop in the third quarter to make it a seven-point game, and Jon McGraw intercepted struggling backup Caleb Hanie in the end zone in the fourth.

The Chiefs also recorded seven sacks — three by Justin Houston — and intercepted Hanie three times.

The Bears (7-5) dropped their second straight after winning five in a row, but the biggest loss Sunday came in the first quarter.

Forte took a hit to the right knee from Derrick Johnson on a run for no gain deep in Chicago territory with 6 minutes left in the period, another big blow for a team contending in the NFC.

Quarterback Jay Cutler was already out indefinitely after breaking his right thumb against San Diego on Nov. 20, and now Chicago might have to make do without the league’s third-leading rusher.

“It’s not a good feeling when you see your star tailback go down with a knee injury,” coach Lovie Smith said. “Part of the game. We’ll just keep our fingers crossed and hopefully it’s not that serious.”

In the fourth and final year of his rookie contract, Forte has been one of the Bears’ most valuable players. He has also been durable during his career, starting all 60 games since he entered the league in 2008, but that run could be in jeopardy.

Forte stayed on the ground while being examined by medical personnel and walked to the sideline under his own power afterward. He remained there for several minutes before heading to the locker room.

Orton, a former Bear, didn’t last long in this one.

On his first play since he was claimed off waivers from Denver, he was hit in the hand by Major Wright as he tossed an incomplete pass.

Palko came back in and was good enough for the Chiefs this week..

Hanie struggled again for the Bears, completing 11 of 24 passes with a 23.8 rating in his second start for Cutler. Besides getting sacked seven times against a team that came in with just 13, he threw three interceptions for the second straight week, and whatever chance the Bears had, basically disappeared when he got picked off in the end zone with just over four minutes left on a ball that hit off several defenders after Roy Williams juggled it.

“Don’t blame one guy for this loss,” Smith said. “We all had a big say in what happened today.”

Notes: Besides Forte, the Bears also lost Wright to a shoulder injury. … The Bears visit Denver this week in the last of four straight games against AFC West opponents. … Chiefs safety Kendrick Lewis injured a knee in the first half.

Bears Have Look of a Champion With Cutler

Urlacher offered that observation last week, before Cutler strafed the playoff-bound New York Jets with three third-quarter touchdown passes in a 38-34 victory that ran the Bears’ two-week point total to 78, a figure both unattainable and unimaginable when Grossman was their quarterback.

A stout defense, a strong running game and Devin Hester’s electrifying kick returns were the Bear essentials in ’06, when they went 13-3 and added playoff victories over Seattle and New Orleans. All Grossman had to do then was keep things moving and not mess up. But more was required of him when the Bears fell behind ’s Indianapolis Colts in the Miami drizzle during Super Bowl XLI. When Grossman couldn’t deliver, his shortcomings were magnified and his days in Chicago were numbered.

Kyle Orton was taller, but not much of an upgrade otherwise. Thus the 2009 mega-trade for Cutler, the Bears’ first — stop us if you’ve heard this before — franchise quarterback since Sid Luckman.

Cutler does not present a charismatic, own-the-town personality. He comes across as rather smug and above it all. And his zealous belief in that loaded right arm is always going to result in a throw or two that should not be made.

But he has the team in the playoffs for the first time since the 2006-7 season, which is a lifetime in Bear years. And glimpses of brilliance like the one he offered during Sunday’s third quarter have turned some of the most hardened skeptics into believers.

That’s how it works in the : a team is as good as its quarterback. Can anyone name six Patriots besides Man of the Era ? Would the Eagles be such a compelling story if anyone other than the dynamically gifted and distastefully flawed were lighting their fire?

Peyton Manning, , Matt Ryan, . Nearly every team with a realistic shot at the Super Bowl has a Super Bowl-caliber performer at quarterback. The Bears believe they do, too. They admire Cutler’s toughness as much as his talent, and that means something.

“If you run hard on your routes and get open, Jay’s going to get you the ball — you know that,” said Hester, still a kick-returning dynamo who also has 39 catches and four touchdowns as a slot receiver.

The pairing of Cutler with mad scientist/offensive coordinator has been the Bears’ most avidly followed back story since training camp. They got off to a shaky start, and Cutler took a frightful pounding, largely because a leaky offensive line did not allow him time to find the receivers supposedly set free by Martz’s intricate scheming.

“You can’t come out here Week 1 and expect to be firing on all cylinders,” Cutler said. “We hadn’t experienced some of the plays put in. Until you go out there and repeat them and see looks and know how to react, it’s not going to come together.”

The Bears have won seven of eight since some bye-week retrofitting resulted in a renewed emphasis on the running game and shorter, safer drops for Cutler. He has been sacked a league-high 46 times, but 26 came in his first six games, including a horrendous nine against the Giants on Oct. 3. He has been down 19 times in the eight games since the bye week, and the line afforded him enough protection to throw those three home-run balls against the Jets.

“Everything is starting to come together now,” Cutler said. “The guys are starting to pick it up, the offensive line is playing well — it’s fun out there.”

The Eagles’ inexplicable loss to the outmanned Vikings on Tuesday night means Sunday’s regular-season finale against the Packers in Green Bay is of no consequence for the Bears. The Packers (9-6) need to win to make the playoffs, pure and simple. The Bears (11-4) are already assured of a first-round bye and at least one playoff game at home, though the value of that is dubious. They’re 5-3 at home this year and 6-1 on the road, where their defense allows nearly 10 fewer points per game.

Along with good fortune — the disallowed touchdown in the Detroit game, the Green Bay penalties, Miami’s reliance on an off-the-street quarterback, etc. — has come uncommonly good health: only one starter, linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa, has missed extended time. Cutler sat out one game with a concussion, but Carolina was the opponent, and the Bears would have beaten the Panthers with Henry Burris or Moses Moreno under center.

The Packers are a different story. They’re desperate, and their quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, is one of the hottest in football. The Bears are running into him one week after they made the Jets’ look like Johnny Unitas. Cutler just might be the least of their concerns.

dmcgrath@chicagonewscoop.org