LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith hopes Jay Cutler will return from his concussion and play this weekend against the Seattle Seahawks.
Then again, Smith was confident his quarterback would be ready for Sunday's game at Carolina. Instead, the Bears went with Todd Collins, and he struggled in a 23-6 victory, throwing four interceptions before being yanked in favor of Caleb Hanie.
"We're evaluating him daily," Smith said of Cutler on Monday. "I was hopeful he'd be able to play Sunday. So we're hopeful. We'll see how it goes."
Smith said Cutler hasn't had any setbacks and added: "I'm not going to talk about Jay anymore. There's nothing else for me to tell you about Jay. He's doing better. Wednesday, we'll be able to tell you a little bit more."
Cutler's status has been the dominant topic ever since a nine-sack first half during a loss to the New York Giants two weeks ago left him with a concussion. Collins replaced Cutler to start the second half of that game, and the Bears went with the veteran backup Sunday.
Cutler practiced on a limited basis last week, but he sat out the Panthers game after team and independent doctors examined him.
"I think he's feeling good," Bears tight end Greg Olsen said. "I think he felt good toward the end of the week."
Smith wouldn't say who would start against the Seahawks if Cutler isn't available, although Collins didn't exactly inspire confidence with his performance against Carolina. He went 6-of-16 passing for 32 yards with a 6.2 rating in his first start since 2007 with the Washington Redskins. Hanie came on and completed 2 of 3 passes for 19 yards, but Smith said the depth chart remains the same "right now."
Then again, the coach never announces changes on Mondays.
If Cutler does return, that would at least turn down the volume on the backup quarterback discussion.
If ever there was a chance for a second-stringer to look good, the Carolina game was it. Not only did the Bears get their ground game going, with Matt Forte running for a career-high 166 yards and Chicago's first two rushing touchdowns of the season behind a revamped line, they were up against a short-handed secondary. The winless Panthers were missing safety Sherrod Martin.
Collins couldn't take advantage. He was immobile and inaccurate, looking like a 38-year-old backup who hadn't played much the past few years in a performance that probably left many wondering if he has anything left.
Collins telegraphed a pass to Devin Hester in the end zone on third down at the 1 late in the first quarter, resulting in an easy interception for Ed Johnson. Collins also overthrew an open Johnny Knox by a wide margin on a deep ball along the left sideline early in the second quarter, and Jordan Pugh picked off the pass.
The third interception came a few minutes later on a ball that was tipped at the line. Collins was hit by Dan Connor as he released the pass, and Everette Brown wound up with it.
The fourth interception came on another deep throw that Charles Godfrey picked off in the third quarter.
"There's no quarterback controversy or anything like that," Smith said. "Todd didn't play as well as he needed to, finishing the game. I like what Caleb Hanie was able to do coming in."
So who's the No. 2 quarterback? Who would start in Cutler's absence?
"Let's go back to what I said a little while ago, all right?" Smith said. "We haven't made any of those kind of decisions. The starting list you had yesterday, go with it. How is that?"
Star linebacker Lance Briggs, who sprained his right ankle in the preseason, left the Panthers game after injuring the other one in the second half. The coach said Briggs is "doing better" and could return to practice Wednesday.
Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press