- Associated Press - Tuesday, October 25, 2016

LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP) - Jay Cutler’s return has come at the right time for the Chicago Bears.

Cutler is back as the starter after five weeks away with a thumb sprain as a replacement Brian Hoyer, who went on injured reserve with a broken left arm.

And Bears coach John Fox is thankful to have Cutler healthy enough to play, even if earlier he hinted there was a chance Hoyer could keep the job.

“He doesn’t have a choice, I guess, at this point,” Cutler said about Fox. “Brian is out, so I’ve got to go.

“I’ve had good conversations with Foxy this week, last week, the week before. There’s never been any strain in our relationship. We’re both very open and honest, and we’re on the same page. We just want to win football games.”

While Cutler was away, Hoyer played five-plus games without an interception and a 98.0 passer rating.

It led to talk Cutler might have played his last down for the Bears, who are 1-6 on the season. And Fox didn’t exactly throw cold water on the situation by saying the starting position is “performance-based.”

“It is what it is,” Cutler said. “Anytime you have a backup quarterback - and to Brian’s credit, he played well.

“I think as a team, we wish we would have won some more of those ball games. But Brian went in there and did a great job.

“My discussions with everybody that I have relationships with in here were positive, and whenever I was ready to go, I’d be ready to go.

There was never any discussion regarding that with me.”

Cutler said he didn’t expect to have a discussion.

“It didn’t concern me,” he said. “I wasn’t ready to play. My thumb wasn’t healed.”

The future, Cutler said, will be an issue when it comes.

“Whatever happens at the end of the year, it’s supposed to happen, and will go accordingly,” Cutler said. “But right now it’s not something that I worry about.

“It’s my 11th year, my eighth year here. I’ve seen a lot of ups and downs, and it’s how it goes. At the end of the year, we can have those conversations. Whatever happens, happens.”

Cutler said the thumb sprain is no longer giving him pain.

“I haven’t gotten hit,” Cutler said. “Throwing good - you can’t feel it throwing.”

Fox on Monday said the plan all along was to bring Cutler back when he was healed, regardless of what he told reporters about performance-based starters.

“I think Jay kind of knew all along what our plan was,” Fox said. “And that’s the important thing.”

Cutler said he wanted to return before Monday night’s home game against the Minnesota Vikings.

“I mean, as a player you always want to come back probably sooner than you should, than the doctors allow,” Cutler said. “This being my right thumb and being kind of vitally important to my job.

“We thought that erring on the side of caution was best.”

It wasn’t a situation Cutler enjoyed.

“I’ve never liked being hurt, never liked being out,” Cutler said. “It could get to be a lonely feeling at times watching everyone else go out there and try to win ballgames. You’re kind of just a helpless bystander.

“So being able to get in the mix and trying to help these guys is going to be fun.”

Cutler threw in practice on the side the past few weeks, but wasn’t involved with team drills except for one brief appearance three weeks ago. It’s the first time in his career he’s returned to play in a season after a layoff this long.

“Anytime you take a layoff like that and come back, there’s going to be some (rust) you’ve got to knock off,” he said. “Luckily I was still around, saw the game, visualized the game, was able to stay behind the quarterback and stay involved, and we’ve got a long week.”

When Cutler started out the season with a 75.7 passer rating for two games, he was playing behind a completely revamped offensive line with Josh Sitton and Cody Whitehair making their first Bears starts.

Now he returns with Sitton suffering from an ankle injury and right guard Kyle Long suffering from a pectoral muscle strain. Their status for the game is unknown. Eric Kush replaced Sitton and Ted Larsen took over for Long against Green Bay in a 26-10 loss Thursday.

“It’s how it goes,” Cutler said. “We’ve got a bye week after this, so hopefully we’ll get those two guys back. Kush played well. Ted has played a lot of football. The good thing about it is we have had a lot of different guys in there through camp and during the games and stuff.

“We shouldn’t miss a beat with those guys.”

___

Online:

AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP_NFL

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