Down they went, nearly two hours and 400 miles apart, a pair of strong-armed leaders hobbling off the field in obvious pain.
And by the time the Chicago Bears and St. Louis Rams had flown west and returned to their respective homes Sunday night, the immediate fates of their franchise quarterbacks were very much in flux -- and each organization was forced to confront the possibility of a suddenly uncertain future at the position.
With the Bears' Jay Cutler felled by a groin injury that two team sources regarded as potentially significant ("It doesn't look good," one told me, pending an MRI Monday) and the Rams' Sam Bradford shelved for the season with a torn ACL in his left knee, both teams figure to have a much tougher path to the playoffs in 2013. (UPDATE: A torn groin muscle will keep Cutler out for "at least" four weeks, the Bears announced Monday.)
A brutal day of football featured an inordinate amount of significant physical carnage, including severe injuries to Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Doug Martin, Houston Texans linebacker Brian Cushing, Cincinnati Bengals cornerback Leon Hall and Indianapolis Colts wideout Reggie Wayne, who went down with what turned out to be a torn ACL late in Indy's epic 39-33 victory over Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos on Sunday night. However, the sidelining of Cutler and the end of Bradford's 2013 campaign reverberated most of all.
For the 4-3 Bears, who got a solid effort out of backup Josh McCown (14 of 20, 204 yards, one touchdown pass) after Cutler went down in the second quarter of their 45-41 road defeat to the Washington Redskins, all is not lost in the short term: First-year coach Marc Trestman has a proven, timing-based offensive system that should afford a non-flashy veteran like McCown a chance to succeed, especially given the team's wealth of offensive weapons (running back Matt Forte, receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, tight end Martellus Bennett). Chicago also has a plethora of playmakers on defense and a special teams ace in Devin Hester, who on Sunday took a punt 81 yards to the house, giving him an NFL-record-setting 20 career return touchdowns, including the postseason.
And while it generally has been presumed that Cutler, whose contract expires after the 2013 season, will remain Chicago's quarterback in 2014 and beyond -- whether via the franchise tag or a lucrative, long-term contract -- there is a very real possibility that the Bears' powers that be (Trestman and general manager Phil Emery) will elect to set him free.
Yes, Cutler has a great arm and has done his best to adapt to Trestman's system -- his coach told me early in the season that the quarterback had "bought in completely," a statement corroborated by others close to the situation.
That said, some of the old, bad habits that dogged Cutler in past regimes, such as waiting too long to throw the ball and holding it too low as he stands in the pocket, have resurfaced at inopportune times. He had four turnovers in the Bears' first defeat of the season, a 40-32 setback to the Detroit Lions three weeks ago. In seven games, he's totaled seven interceptions and four fumbles.
Trestman, who was the Oakland Raiders' offensive coordinator during Rich Gannon's MVP season in 2002 and won a pair of Grey Cups in the Canadian Football League with Anthony Calvillo running the Montreal Alouettes' attack, might not place as much of a premium on arm strength as some of his peers.
"Think about it -- he had his greatest success with Rich Gannon, who was smart and moved well but wasn't anybody's idea of a big thrower," said one source familiar with the Bears' situation. "If you're him, do you want to spend $20 million a year on Cutler, who might not be the best fit, or do you want to find someone you can mold who's efficient? And if you think about how deep this (next) draft class might be, he can identify his guy and get him relatively cheap for the next few years."
I'm not saying this will happen, but the reasoning is sound. If Trestman can finesse a playoff berth despite Cutler's absence, it's tough to imagine the franchise extending a contract offer to the quarterback in the Matt Ryan/Joe Flacco/Tony Romo price range, or even close to it.
At 3-3 heading into Sunday's game at Carolina, St. Louis was coming off consecutive victories and harbored hopes of sneaking into the postseason. Now, in the wake of a dispiriting 30-15 defeat that saw Bradford go down with five minutes remaining, there is a palatable sense of gloom throughout the organization.
In the short term, backup Kellen Clemens likely will be elevated to the starting role, a move that is generating the internal enthusiasm of two-a-day training camp practices in the heat and humidity. And there's no enticing alternative outside the organization, either.
The Rams, who contemplated trading for Tim Tebow before the Broncos dealt him to the New York Jets in the spring of 2012, had brief internal discussions about bringing him into the fold Sunday night, but are highly unlikely to go in that direction. And given coach Jeff Fisher's unpleasant history with former Tennessee Titans quarterback Vince Young, you can forget about that option.
Last month, I reported the Rams had decided on Bradford as their long-term solution, with team president Kevin Demoff telling me, "We have decided that Sam Bradford is our guy. If they came to us and wanted to do a contract extension right now, we'd do it in a minute."
Now that Bradford, whose current deal runs through 2015 and is due to pay him another $27 million, has been lost for the season, it's quite possible that Demoff, general manager Les Snead and Fisher will reassess that decision.
The Rams, who've stockpiled young talent since Fisher and Snead arrived before the 2012 season, will have plenty of ammo in the quarterback-rich 2014 draft. They'll have two first-round picks: their own and Washington's (a remnant of the blockbuster deal that brought Robert Griffin III to the nation's capital). It's possible both selections could be relatively high, especially if the Rams struggle in Bradford's absence and the Redskins (2-4) fail to mount a rally similar to the seven-game winning streak that closed their 2012 regular season.
As with the Bears, the Rams' power brokers might conclude that landing a talented quarterback in the draft is the best option. Under that scenario, Bradford likely would be cut, to save salary-cap space and allow the team to proceed in a different direction without undermining the new starter.
Granted, a lot can happen between now and September 2014. Yet, it's clear that the Bears and Rams are facing murkier futures at the sport's most important position than they were heading into the weekend, and there are a lot of wide-ranging decisions to be made in the coming months.
They'll also be forced to confront plenty of questions in the short term, which gives them something in common with us. Here are 32 more of those for your reading enjoyment, as we take our weekly trip from the penthouse to the outhouse:
4) Denver Broncos: Will Sunday night's emotional defeat at Lucas Oil Stadium go down as a changing of the guard -- or as the disappointment that propelled Peyton Manning to an even scarier level of offensive mastery?
5) Indianapolis Colts: Did Jim Irsay earn the right to gloat about his decision to go with Andrew Luck as his franchise quarterback after Indy's win over the Broncos -- and will the next Pearl Jam quote he cites in reference to Manning come from this song?
6) New England Patriots: After Pats defensive tackle Chris Jones was penalized for pushing a teammate on Nick Folk's overtime field goal attempt -- setting up a subsequent game-winner for the Jets kicker -- how tempted was Bill Belichick to perform a similar maneuver on referee Jerome Boger?
8) Cincinnati Bengals: After Mike Nugent's 54-yard game-winning field goal against the Lions in Detroit on Sunday, have the Bengals -- like the kicker's Motor City-raised namesake -- contracted a certain feline-inspired ailment?
9) Green Bay Packers: If I'd told you five years ago that Brett Favre would someday be deriving great pleasure from Aaron Rodgers' statistical success, how many Spotted Cow ales would you have accused me of having consumed?
13) Detroit Lions: What's more absurd: that Matthew Stafford threw a pass into triple coverage in the fourth quarter of Sunday's game against the Bengals, or that Calvin Johnson caught it for a touchdown?
14) Baltimore Ravens: If Ozzie Newsome would still "like for someone to tell us we're not good enough to go to the playoffs right now," may I humbly volunteer?
16) Tennessee Titans: After Frank Gore's second touchdown run at LP Field on Sunday, did Titans senior assistant/defense Gregg Williams pretty much concede that the head is alive and well and possibly immortal?
21) Cleveland Browns: Can you imagine what would have happened if the Browns had drafted Aaron Rodgers instead of Braylon Edwards and Charlie Frye in 2005 -- and how much less miserable they'd have been at Lambeau Field on Sunday?
28) Oakland Raiders: If Terrelle Pryor can admit that he "deserved them hits" in a 24-7 defeat to the Chiefs in Week 6, shouldn't general manager Reggie McKenzie be able to say the same (in a figurative sense) after his failed trade for Matt Flynn?
29) Minnesota Vikings: When Christian Ponder declared, "I have to figure out what's best for me ... I don't know if that's staying here or going somewhere else," did it register the same sound as a tree falling in the middle of the forest?
30) Tampa Bay Buccaneers: When the Bucs' exit from the Georgia Dome provoked a visit from workers in hazmat suits, could there possibly have been a richer metaphor for the current condition of the franchise?
32) Jacksonville Jaguars: Why?
Follow Michael Silver on Twitter @MikeSilver.