Every game in the NFL is important. The Bears need to win the upcoming Monday night bout against the 49ers for a number of reasons: to remain no more than one game behind the Conference-leading Atlanta Flacons, to remain a full game ahead of San Fransisco (currently third in the NFC) and, most importantly, to remain at least one game ahead of the Packers in their division.
Monday night's match-up is no doubt an important game for the Bears, but this is one instance where "looking past" the upcoming game may be more beneficial for our beloved Bears.
Players from all teams preach that you should never look past your next opponent. Teams and analysts scare from the potential of the notorious "trap game," where looking past an easy-to-win game towards a more formidable opponent in weeks to come, comes back to bite them, and they lose the "easy" match-up during the current week. This game against San Francisco is far from a trap game, as the Bears are well aware, as is the rest of the NFL, that the 49ers are one of the best teams in the NFC, if not the entire league.
Since this is such an important game, especially for potential playoff seeding, why should the Bears be looking past this prime-time showdown?
The concussion which Jay Cutler suffered last Sunday night has been well-documented. As of yet, the Bears have not ruled him out of Monday night's game, although the quarterback has not practiced with the team this week. If Cutler is not able to go, backup QB, and off-season free agent acquisition, Jason Campbell will lead the Bears' offense against the vaunted San Fran defense. While this would clearly be a setback for this week, the Bears have more important games to worry about the rest of the way.
Campbell was added to the Bears' roster specifically for this reason: Jay Cutler has a history of injuries, namely concussions. GM Phil Emery anticipated that Cutler may miss some time due to a scenario exactly like the conundrum they now find themselves in. I want Jay to play on Monday, but I only want him to play if he is fully healthy, and fully capable of remaining that way, should he play the game.
Considering that Cutler has yet to practice with the team this week, I cannot believe that he will be fully able to protect himself against the 49ers, let alone that he will be healthy enough to be as effective as we would like to see him. Starting Campbell in his place is not conceeding this game, its simply means the Bears will have to alter the way in which they intend to defeat the 49ers.
With four of their remaining six games coming against divisional opponents, the Bears simply have more important games to come. The week 15 game against the Packers is more imperative to win, and could end up deciding the division winner in the NFC North. The Bears have taken care of business in the first half of the season. At this point, they need to focus on winning their division and taking that advantage into the playoffs.
Dominating the rest of the NFC and locking up a home-field advantage throughout the playoffs would be huge, but the New York Giants have proved multiple times that home-field advantage is overrated. Making the playoffs is not. When Cutler went down last year, the Bears were 7-3, and most people believed they only needed to win one or two games with Caleb Hanie in order to make the playoffs, with hopes that Cutler would be healthy enough to lead the team once the playoffs began. We all remember how that worked out.
While it pains me to know that Cutler, rookie WR Alshon Jeffery, and rookie DE Shea McClellin likely will not play on Monday, I'm happy to know that I won't be worried about any of them re-injuring themselves in this game, thus hurting the Bears' chances the rest of the season. While the injuries to Jeffery and McClellin are obviously of miniscule importance compared to Cutler's health, both of the rookies have been productive for the Bears with their short time on the field, and are definitely going to be instrumental pieces as this season continues on. We all know how important Cutler's presence on the field is to the Bears. Even when Jay is having a poor day, he has the ability to turn that around in a moment's notice, and he has been spectacular thus far in the fourth quarter.
I simply trust the Bears to make the right decision for Jay and the team Monday night if they are looking past this match-up against the 49ers. Of course Lovie wants to go on the road and dominate, and of course we as Bears fans want to see that. However, rushing Jay, or anyone else for that matter, back simply to help achieve this would be folly. What is of the utmost importance is not throwing away another mid-season winning record that should turn into a playoff birth.
To risk losing Cutler for the remainder of the season is simply not worth putting him on the field this Monday if he is not 100%- and who can believe that the QB could be at 100% come Monday when he has yet to practice all week? The Bears are capable of winning this game without Cutler, though surely it will be a harder task. Jason Campbell was brought to this team specifically for scenarios such as this, so use him- no matter the extra obstacles that presents for this week.
If the Bears are looking past this game, and focusing instead on the season as a whole at this point, that is a more responsible stance than rushing any key player back to field. Get Cutler healthy, utilize the improved depth on the roster, and keep our hopes for success in the playoffs alive.