Speaking to reporters for the first time Wednesday since he broke his thumb on his right hand against San Diego two weeks ago, Cutler said he might be finished for the season
The Bears hope he will return this year. So does Cutler, but he wasn't making any guarantees.
"I've got to be smart about it," he said. "Obviously, I'd want to play next week if they'd allow me. I don't think that's going to be in the cards. It could be I'm done for the season. I just have to be smart about it and realize that there is a long-term picture here. At the same point, I want to be out there and my teammates want me to be out there."
Cutler was injured trying to help tackle Antoine Cason on an interception return in the fourth quarter of a 31-20 victory over the Chargers, Cutler had three screws and two pins surgically inserted into his throwing hand three days later in Vail, Colo.
He said the thumb is "structurally sound" and the screws will stay in. He said the pins come out after three to 10 weeks.
Cutler also said he did not suffer any ligament damage, but did hyperextend and dislocate it. He has started rehabilitation and is trying to get the swelling to go down, but he expects to lose some flexibility in his thumb.
He's not sure when he'll be able to start throwing, let alone play.
"We'll have to take it week by week, take some X-rays and CT scans the next couple weeks and see if the bone's healing like it should be," Cutler said. "I don't want to put a real number on it because I just don't know."
With Cutler sidelined, the Bears turned to Caleb Hanie last week and the results were mixed.
Making his first start, Hanie threw three interceptions in the first half and flubbed a spike in the closing seconds of a 25-20 loss at Oakland, resulting in a game-ending intentional grounding call. He also did some things reasonably well, throwing for 254 yards and two touchdowns while running for 50 yards on five attempts, but Chicago (7-4) saw a five-game win streak end.
With stars Julius Peppers and Brian Urlacher anchoring the defense and Devin Hester leading one of the top special-teams units, the Bears believe they have enough to get by. It would help if they had their starting quarterback, though.
Cutler actually finished that game against San Diego and wound up with 286 yards passing. He also threw for two touchdowns and ran for another, but the only play anyone was talking about afterward was this one.
With an 11-point lead against San Diego and the ball on the Chargers 30, Cutler was trying to hit Johnny Knox, but the receiver slipped. Cason picked off the ball at the 20 and returned it 64 yards before being pushed out of bounds by Matt Forte at the Bears 16.
Cutler helped prevent a touchdown on the return, but paid a heavy price. He raced over and got knocked to the ground by linebacker Donald Butler as he pushed Cason with his right hand, which smacked the turf as he fell. Major Wright intercepted Philip Rivers' throw in the end zone three plays later, and the Bears ran 71/2 minutes off the clock on the next possession, with Cutler completing two passes on the drive, to Matt Spaeth and Forte.
Cutler did not realize at first that he was injured.
"I was (ticked) at Johnny about the pick so coming off the field I didn't really notice," said Cutler, who thought Butler grabbed his facemask. "I was more worried about talking to him in a calm manner. After I settled down and went back on the field, I knew there was something definitely wrong and it was kind of serious. I didn't really imagine I'd have to have surgery."
He said it was "really uncomfortable" but kept playing. He informed trainers something was wrong during a timeout on the Bears' long possession but told them, "We'll just have to deal with it after the game."