LAKE FOREST, Illinois — If ever the Chicago Bears needed Jay Cutler to be a stabilizing force, this would seem to be the time.
Two Pro Bowl receivers and a pair of starting offensive linemen are injured. The Bears are coming off a brutal season-opening loss, and they're staring at a matchup with San Francisco this week that could make even the healthiest teams blink.
No need to remind Cutler. He understands what he has to do.
"With all the changes we're making, it's probably is a little more important this week," he said.
The Bears are looking at the possibility of having two spots on the offensive line being manned by reserves with center Roberto Garza and left guard Matt Slauson nursing ankle injuries. They could also be without one or both Pro Bowl receivers, with Brandon Marshall (ankle) and Alshon Jeffery (hamstring) hobbled.
The injuries to Garza and Slauson appear more serious. But having to face the 49ers without Marshall or Jeffery would be huge blows for Chicago.
Both receivers sat out their second straight practice Thursday. While Marshall vowed to be ready, it's not clear if he or Jeffery will get the go-ahead.
"If I can help out the team I'm going to be out there," he said. "That's part of the game — it's volatile, it's risky. Hey, I'm going to go down swinging. I'll be out there Sunday. That's what I'm saying, but of course I'm not the head decision-maker here. But I'm going to be out there in my mind, and I'll be ok."
That probably hinges on what he shows in practice on Friday, assuming he participates. Marshall was planning to do so, but coach Marc Trestman wasn't sure if Jeffery will.
Either way, with so many starters banged up or missing, the Bears need Cutler to help stabilize the offense.
"Jay has become that guy for us," offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer said. "He's the guy leading the offense. And he's done a good job of communicating and whether it's with the linemen, receivers, running backs, he's done a good job communicating with all of them and becoming that force of whoever's in with him, let's go play. We're 11-on-11 and we've been pleased with the way he's done that."
The Bears came into the season aiming high with a rebuilt defense and a prolific offense returning intact, but last week's overtime loss to Buffalo was as demoralizing as it was ugly at times.
The schedule doesn't get easier, with six of the next eight games on the road, and they're looking at a tough matchup this week.
San Francisco's defense could pose problems, and on top of that, the 49ers might be amped up a little more than usual because this will be their first regular-season game in their new stadium.
Cutler put up some big numbers against Buffalo last week but also committed a key mistake at an inopportune time, sparking some unpleasant memories for Bears fans.
He threw for 349 yards. But one of the plays that stood out was an ill-advised attempt at an across-the-body pass to Martellus Bennett with the Bears threatening in the fourth quarter.
The result was an interception by the defensive tackle and at least a few groans at Soldier Field.
The Bears can't afford decisions like that if they're going to have a chance against the 49ers — particularly if Marshall or Jeffery can't play.
They'll need Cutler to be a stabilizing force.
"The last two days he's done an outstanding job just working through the practices with the guys that we are practicing with," Trestman said. "He's been a coach out there, a mentor out there. He has stayed calm and relaxed throughout. Just working with the guys and practicing."
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