(MCT) CHICAGO — Although coach Lovie Smith said quarterback Jay Cutler is feeling “a lot better” after suffering a concussion against the Texans, the Bears coach declined to speculate on Cutler’s status for Monday night’s matchup versus the 49ers.
But Smith said the team would proceed with caution considering Cutler’s concussion history. Cutler suffered a concussion during an October 2010 loss to the Giants and missed one game. He also had at least one concussion in college at Vanderbilt and at least one while a member of the Broncos.
“We’ll never put a guy at risk,” Smith said. “No game is that important for us. Of course the players have always come first with everything that we do.”
Cutler must be cleared by an independent neurologist in order to play Monday night. A player typically goes to see a neurologist if he is asymptomatic and has cleared the return-to-play protocol (neuropsychological test, running activities, symptom-free in daily living) or if he continues to have symptoms lasting beyond 14 to 17 days. If such symptoms persist, an MRI usually follows.
Smith said the team believes Cutler suffered the concussion when he was hit by Texans linebacker Tim Dobbins with 2 minutes, 56 seconds left in the first half. Dobbins was flagged for unnecessary roughness on the play. Team physician Mark Bowen dashed onto the field to check on Cutler, but Cutler, who adjusted his head several times, remained in the game for seven more snaps.
On the play immediately following Dobbins’ hit, Cutler scrambled for 11 yards and appeared to take another shot from Texans defensive back Kareem Jackson before his headfirst dive.
Smith maintained Cutler showed no immediate concussion symptoms following the initial sideline examination.
“And if you look at his play, it’s not like he was light on his feet, starry-eyed or anything like that,” Smith said. “We felt like he was in control of everything ... at the time.”
The NFL determined the Bears followed the proper protocol, league spokesman Greg Aiello said. Smith said he believes the Bears go beyond protocol when it comes to injuries, particularly concussions.
“If we err (on either side), it would be as far as keeping players out longer,” Smith said. “We do have a history with players. We have a history with Jay, Hunter Hillenmeyer.
“But it’s not just a concussion. We do that with all of our players with any injury that they have.”
Smith was asked how likely Cutler’s return would have been Sunday night had the new concussion guidelines not been instituted.
“If a player has a concussion ... he’s not going back in the game,” Smith said. “It’s as simple as that. Once we found out that Jay Cutler (and) Shea McClellin had a concussion, first, our protocol would say that they’re out of the football game.”
The Bears return to practice Thursday, and Smith said it would be best to have the starter determined sooner than later in order to prepare for the 49ers. If Cutler’s symptoms linger, he is unlikely to even make the trip to San Francisco. Prolonged flying time can exacerbate concussion symptoms and recovery time.
Jason Campbell, who played in Northern California last season with the Raiders, would prepare for his 71st career start if Cutler is ruled out. Campbell completed 11 of 19 passes for 94 yards in the second half in wet conditions against the Texans.
Smith didn’t exactly give Campbell’s performance a stamp of approval, but the coach called his backup a “pro” who has looked good in practice against the first-team defense. Cutler’s season-ending thumb surgery last year and the disaster that followed is the reason the Bears signed the eight-year veteran Campbell.
“If Jay can’t go ... Jason will be ready to go,” Smith said.
The Bears also are in the process of re-signing veteran Josh McCown for insurance. McCown was scheduled to land in Chicago on Monday night.