Barring setback, Bears' Cutler expected to start vs. Panthers

Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith sounded optimistic that quarterback Jay Cutler will be back soon from his concussion, although he would not say just how severe the injury is.

Smith said Cutler was back at the practice facility Monday and was "feeling OK" after sitting out the second half of a 17-3 loss the previous night against the New York Giants. Even so, his status for this week's game against the Carolina Panthers is in question.

League sources told NFL Network insider Jason La Canfora that, barring a setback, Cutler is expected to start this weekend. The sources told La Canfora that Cutler's concussion is not severe and if he does not experience post-concussion symptoms in practice, then he is likely to play. The Bears are preparing for now as if Cutler will play, La Canfora reports.

"Jay is here," Smith said. "It seemed like he was in pretty good shape right now. There are no visual signs or anything that I could tell. I try not to be the doctor, and I leave that to other people. It seems like he's OK today."

Smith said the Bears started noticing symptoms after the second-to-last play of the second quarter, when Cutler's head banged the turf while being taken down by Aaron Ross on the Giants' ninth sack. The Bears then went with a run by Chester Taylor, and Todd Collins replaced Cutler to start the third quarter.

On a night when the Bears wound up allowing 10 sacks, their most ever, Cutler started taking a beating as soon as he stepped on the field. His injury casts a big cloud over the Bears and wipes out the good feelings they created by winning their first three games.

Cutler, who has made 57 straight starts since Denver turned to him as a rookie in 2006, had absorbed more than a few big hits by the time Ross got to him late in the first half.

There was one sack early in the second quarter when Osi Umenyiora ran through tight end Greg Olsen and leveled Cutler from behind, the ball popping out and into the arms of center Olin Kreutz.

Cutler got up and took a few steps toward the sideline before correcting himself. Soon after, he had what appeared to be a dazed look when the TV cameras showed him sitting on the sideline, and his decision-making was questionable at best.

He hung on to the ball too long at times, in an apparent effort to make plays that just weren't there, and the result was more hits from a relentless defense.

"As I said, when we thought something was going on was after that last sack that he took right before the half," Smith said. "That's when he showed the symptoms of a concussion, and we did something about it."

He would not elaborate on those symptoms.

Smith also said he didn't consider lifting Cutler earlier, adding "We were trying to win the football game, and Jay gave us our best option to do that. Jay wasn't thinking about coming out of the game. Everybody out there was trying to make a play. Keep in mind, it was a 3-0 game. Taking out the quarterback during that time? No, that doesn't cross my mind."

Backup QB Todd Collins, who replaced Cutler to start the second half, suffered a stiff neck when he was eventually knocked from the game is slated to return to practice, too, according to La Canfora. Collins does not expect to start however, according to sources, given the prognosis for Cutler.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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