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 Carolina is in question.
"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.
He actually wound up leaving with a stinger late in the game, forcing Chicago to go with Caleb Hanie. Smith hopes to have all three quarterbacks available for practice on Wednesday.
On a night when the Bears wound up allowing 10 sacks, the most ever for them, 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.
"We played four games and we lost one," Smith said. "Let's not panic around here, all right? The reality is we're 3-1 with this group. Our offense has done a lot of good things. Last night, we didn't get it done. We didn't get it done. No more than that."
Smith got testy when someone pointed out the Bears allowed nine sacks in the first half.
"I realize that, too," he said. "Believe it or not, I was at the game also, all right? And we're working to correct that. It happened one time, all right? It's no more than that. We'll correct the things that we can, of course, and we have some different options to go with and we'll play better this week."
Left tackle Frank Omiyale said the breakdowns are "all stuff that can be fixed."
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 wrong 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.
"We are responsible when he's hit," Kreutz said.
Cutler didn't help himself by hanging 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."
Guidelines adopted by the NFL in December 2009 say players who leave a game or practice because of a concussion should not resume football activities until they are "fully asymptomatic, both at rest and after exertion" and have been cleared by team physicians and an "independent neurological consultant."
"We have a process that we go through if a player gets injured during the course of a game," Smith said. "Jay went through that process. We determined at halftime that he wasn't ready to go back in. We kept him out. We'll monitor and continue to evaluate."