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Fox not fretting Hoyer-Cutler decision: ‘We don’t have a plan’

Jay Cutler or Brian Hoyer? It’s all too typical of the Bears’ plight that their best quarterback is a combination of the two. If the Bears could mesh Hoyer’s risk-averse, turnover-resistant efficiency with Cutler’s cannon-for-an-arm, god-given ability to make plays only a handful of quarterbacks can make — and make them under pressure — John Fox wouldn’t have a quarterback issue to deal with.

Instead, the intrigue continues to percolate at Halas Hall, as Hoyer posts Josh McCown-like  passer ratings in place of the injured Cutler —  who remains out indefinitely with a sprained thumb ligament. Hoyer threw for 397 yards against the Colts on Sunday — the most passing yards by a Bears quarterback in the Cutler era, by the way — and threw two touchdowns with no interceptions for a 120.0 passer rating. But he failed to find an open Alshon Jeffery in the end zone in the final minute, clinching a 29-23 loss at Lucas Oil Stadium and leaving a reminder that Cutler still does some things better — like finding Alshon Jeffery when he needs a big play.

So the question still stands: Does Hoyer still have  a hot-enough hand to keep the job when Cutler returns from a sprained thumb?

“Right now, that’s not a reality, so I don’t like to get too much into that,” Fox said Monday. “But I think Brian’s played well. Unfortunately we didn’t play quite well enough. If we score on that last drive, we win the game. But it did not materialize.”

Not surprisingly, the Hoyer-Cutler decision is a hot topic everywhere but Halas Hall. Fox not only isn’t considering what will happen when Cutler is healthy, he has no interest in laying out a plan to or establish paremeters for making a decision should Cutler be healthy and Hoyer still effective.

And there’s a good reason for that.

“We don’t have a plan,” Fox said. “Right now we’ve got two guys healthy in Matt Barkley and Brian Hoyer and those are our quarterbacks. All our focus is there right now.”

A quarterback issue can become devisive in a locker room — especially when a team is 1-4. But even with little defined, Fox feels he has a handle of the Cutler-Hoyer situation.

“I think we’re managing it well,” Fox said. “It kind of it what it is and everybody knows that Brian Hoyer is the quarterback right now and that’s where all our focus is going.

“I think Jay understands that too. I can’t predict the future — otherwise I’d be in a different line of work. But I think everybody’s handling it professionally.”

2. Missing Jeffery in the end zone was a mistake that Hoyer acknowledged after the game. But it’s difficult to be too disappointed in the finish. Let’s face it, if Hoyer were good enough to consistently make that play — after playing so well throughout the game — he wouldn’t be on the Bears. He’d be a starter for the Texans or the Browns.

You win with a Brian Hoyer by keeping him out of those end-game scenarios. In his five victories for the AFC South champion Texans last season, the Texans were up 31-14 in the fourth quarter at Jacksonville and did not allow a touchdown against the Titans (20-6), Bengals (10-6), Saints (24-6) and Jaguars (30-6). J.J. Watt had 8.5 sacks in those games.

2a. That said, Fox was off the mark with his insinuation that criticizing Hoyer’s inability to find a wide-open Jeffery was Monday morning quarterbacking. (“When you’re out there playing quarterback it looks a little different than when you’re in the press box having hot dogs,” he said.) That’s the kind of play, and the exact kind of read, that makes elite quarterbacks elite — Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning, etc. They make those critical plays, especially under pressure. Other quarterbacks do not.

That’s another reason why, as Fox said Monday, “we’re all compensated pretty well.” The players who can make that play are compensated really well. Hoyer handled the aftermath of that play much better than Fox did.

3. Hoyer (397) and Josh McCown (355, 352, 348) now hold four of the top-10 passing games in the Jay Cutler era. The Bears are 8-14 with a 300-yard passer since Cutler arrived in 2009.

3a. Hoyer and rookie running back Jordan Howard have provided a boost to the offense, but the elusive continuity on the offensive line is likely the biggest reason.

Barring an injury in practice, the Bears will start the same five linemen in the same five spots for the sixth consecutive game Sunday against the Jaguars — left tackle Charles Leno, left guard Josh Sitton, center Cody Whitehair, right guard Kyle Long and right tackle Bobby Massie. That would be the longest streak since 2013, when all five linemen started every game — and the Bears ranked second in points scored and eighth in yards.

The Bears made 11 line changes in 16 games in 2014 and six last season. They — knock on wood — have made none this season.

3b. Jordan Howard’s 57-yard run was the longest by a Bear since Matt Forte’s 68-yard touchdown against John Fox’s Panthers in 2010. It’s also tied for the 10th longest run since the end of the Walter Payton era. James Allen had a 57-yard run in a victory over Jim Harbaugh and the Ravens in 1998.

The top 10, post-Payton: 1. Neal Anderson, 80 yards, 1988 2. Anderson, 73 yards, 1989; 3. Kahlil Bell, 72 yards, 2009; 4. Matt Forte, 68 yards (TD), 2010; 5. Raymont Harris, 68 yards (TD), 1997; 6. Anthony Thomas, 67 yards (TD), 2003; 7. Forte, 61 yards, 2009; 8. Forte, 61 yards, 2010; 9. Harris, 59 yards, 1997; 10 (tie). James Allen, 57 yards, 1998; 10 (tie). Jordan Howard, 57 yards, 2016.

4. There should be little doubt that whenever Bryce Callahan returns from a hamstring injury, the starting cornerback job opposite Tracy Porter is his. The undrafted free agent from Rice (2015) looked like much more than a nickel back against the Colts before suffering the injury.

5. Fox didn’t sound like a change in place-kickers was imminent when he addressed Connor Barth’s slow start. Barth was 3-for-4 against the Colts — hitting from 49, 35 and 24 yards. He missed a 54-yarder but got a reprieve when Colts safety T.J. Green was called for running into the kicker. But Barth missed the 49-yarder — which ultimately was a factor at the end.

“Connor will be the first to tell you that we want to make all of them,” Fox said. He knows he needs to make kicks and we’ve got to go about doing better at that.”

Complicating matters is the fact that Robbie Gould, who was replaced by Barth just before Week 1 of the regular season, was 8-for-10 (80.0 percent) on field goal attempts of 49 yards or longer last season. Gould also was 27-of-35 (77.1 percent) on kicks of 49 yards or longer since 2009.

For what it’s worth, visiting kickers have made 6-of-9 (66.7 percent) field goals from 49 yards and 28-of-41 (68.3 percent) from 49-to-54 yards at Lucas Oil Stadium over the past 10 seasons. And the great Adam Vinatieri is 4-of-5 (80.0 percent) from 49 yards and 18-of-24 (75.0 percent) from 49-to-54 yards at Lucas Oil Stadium with the Colts.

6. The Year 2 factor should be kicking in any time now. In John Fox’s second year in Denver, the Broncos were 2-3 after five games, but won their final 11 games to steamroll into the playoffs at 13-3.

Peyton Manning had a 108.3 passer rating in that span (26 touchdowns, eight interceptions) — a lofty standard for Hoyer/Cutler.

7. The Bears had five receivers with 43 or more yards against the Colts — Cam Meredith (9-130), Zach Miller (7-73), Eddie Royal (7-43), Alshon Jeffery (5-77) and Jordan Howard (3-45).

The last time they had four receivers with 43 or more yards in one game was in 2007, a 34-31 loss to the Vikings: Devin Hester (1-81), Bernard Berrian (4-78), Greg Olsen (5-63), Dez Clark (3-48) and Muhsin Muhammad (2-44). Quarterback Brian Griese threw for 381 yards in that game.

8. For the second consecutive week, the Bears will face a team coming off the London game when they face the Jaguars (1-3) on Sunday at Soldier Field. Unlike the Colts, the Jaguars took the bye week following their London game, a 30-27 victory over the Colts.

Since 2009, NFL teams are 15-5-1 following the London game, including 6-2-1 on the road. The Jaguars have played in London three times in the past four years, so the routine is not unfamiliar to many of their players and coaches.

9. Ex-Bears Player of the Week: Much to the chagrin of Bears fans, Patriots tight end Martellus Bennett caught three touchdown passes from Tom Brady and six passes (on eight targets) for 67 yards overall in the Patriots’ 33-13 victory over the Browns.

Anyone who thought Bennett might wither in the shadow of the great Rob Gronkowski was disappointed. In Brady’s first game back from suspension, Gronkowski caught five passes (on seven targets) for 109 yards, while Bennett was Brady’s favorite target in the end zone.

9a. As if to make matters worse for Bears fans, Jets receiver Brandon Marshall had eight receptions for 114 yards and a touchdown, though the Jets lost to the Steelers, 31-13.

9b. Bills cornerback Corey Graham had a key fumble recovery that led to a Bills touchdown in Buffalo’s 30-19 victory over the Rams.

10. Bear-ometer: 6-10 — vs. Jaguars(W); at Packers (L); vs. Vikings (L); at Buccaneers(W); at Giants(W); vs. Titans(W); vs. 49ers(W); at Lions (L); vs. Packers (L); vs. Redskins (L); at Vikings (L).

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