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Brian Hoyer was good, but Jay Cutler beats the Colts

INDIANAPOLIS – Alshon Jeffery erupted with frustration. The Bears star receiver grabbed his helmet, glanced back toward his quarterback and raised his arms.

It was a “Hey, I was open!” look.

And then came, Jeffery’s “Hey, we just lost. Again.” moment.

After quarterback Brian Hoyer’s fourth-and-8 pass to receiver Cam Meredith fell incomplete in the final minute, Jeffery took off his helmet and slowly strolled through the end zone back to the Bears’ sideline.

Bears QBs Jay Cutler and Brian Hoyer after losing to the Colts. (Getty)

Bears QBs Jay Cutler and Brian Hoyer after losing to the Colts. (Getty)

It embodied the Bears’ state of affairs. Even the stars aren’t shining anymore.

The Bears are 1-4 after losing to a very beatable Colts team, which held on for a messy 29-23 victory at Lucas Oil Stadium on Sunday. Since 1990, teams that start 1-4 have a 6.3 percent chance of advancing to the postseason, according to the NFL.

For as brilliantly efficient as Hoyer has been, it’s fair to wonder whether quarterback Jay Cutler would have been the difference in Indianapolis, whether he would have salvaged their season for a litter longer. Hoyer can keep the Bears in games, but Cutler can win them.

Cutler, for all his faults, would have at least looked at Jeffery, his favorite target, in that game-defining situation. Hoyer didn’t. Despite good protection, Hoyer eyed only his options to his right, Meredith and veteran Eddie Royal.

The Colts did disguise their coverage. Jeffery said he read “two-man” coverage with safety Mike Adams moving his way. Hoyer was convinced that Jeffery would be double-teamed

“I thought there was no way they wouldn’t do it,” Hoyer said.

But Jeffery was left one-on-one against cornerback Vontae Davis and he beat him. Adams broke to the middle to cut off other routes.

“[It’s] a play you’d like to have back,” said Hoyer, who saw a photo of the failed play afterward.

Again, it’s a play that screams for the return of Cutler, if only because he would have made sure to look at his star receiver.

“All I know is that we didn’t win the game,” said Jeffery, who has been targeted only 18 times over the last three games with Hoyer.
“I’m not concerned about who gets me the ball more or none of that. We didn’t win the game. That’s all that matters.”

But the Bears’ loss was littered with examples of why Cutler’s absence matters. The Bears compiled 522 yards of total offense – they’re most since 1989 — but they found the end zone only twice against a porous Colts defense.

“We did some good things,” coach John Fox said, “but not quite enough good things.”

“Close doesn’t count,” said Hoyer, who was 33-for-43 for 397 yards, two touchdowns and a 120.0 passer rating.

Hoyer’s production shouldn’t be overlooked. He’s entered Josh McCown territory by throwing for 1,016 yards and six touchdowns in his three starts.

Yet, the Bears are 1-2 in Hoyer’s games. Some context is required, too. Hoyer’s production has come against defenses that were ranked 18th, 21st and 24th in the league at the time he met them. The Colts’ ranking didn’t improve their ranking, either.

The Bears’ offensive line also is markedly better than it was in the early going for Cutler. A hard-nosed run game has been established behind rookie Jordan Howard, who ran for 118 on 16 carries on Sunday. Hoyer also wasn’t sacked by the Colts.

Hoyer’s best attribute has been ball security. He hasn’t turned it over. It’s the main reason why he has Fox’s backing. But it’s also been seemingly forgotten that Cutler protected the ball well and ran an efficient offense for most of last season, too.

Still, there is no quarterback controversy if there is only one of them. Cutler can’t grip and throw a football because of his sprained right thumb. He had a brace back on his right hand at Lucas Oil Stadium.

“I’m not going to get into speculation,” Fox said. “Jay’s not healthy.”

At this point, though, it doesn’t matter if Cutler returns next week or much later. This season has become more about next year than it’s ever been. It’s about development. But what is there to develop with Hoyer or Cutler at quarterback?

What is there for fans – especially those who drowned out Colts fans with their “Let’s go Bears” chants – to look forward to?

As they did Sunday, Fox and his players will point to effort and fight.

“Our guys were battling,” Fox said. “We have a lot those strong character guys who continue to compete.”

But it’s a hollow message outside the locker room when fourth-down plays fail, the losses mount and playoffs are a dream.



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