Arkush: Bears’ playoff chances hinge on Cutler’s status

So let’s call the Bears’ 45-41 loss to the Washington Redskins exactly what it was.

This was an entertaining but poorly played mashup between two of the NFL’s mediocre teams, playoff contenders on their best days but incapable of winning a playoff game on any day, that probably stuck a fork in the Bears’ playoff hopes because they proved to be the lesser of the two.

Or, the Bears scored a huge moral victory in the nation’s capital battling the defending NFC East champions to a near standoff in spite of losing their two best players and watching a handful of other key teammates hobble from the playing field one after another.

I do not believe in moral victories of any kind. The Bears are 4-3, not 4 1/2 and 2 1/2.

But if you had told me before the game the Bears could go out and stink up the field on offense behind Jay Cutler, see him get hurt and that Josh McCown would come on and do his best Steve Young impersonation, put 24 points on the board (we can’t give him credit for Devin Hester’s touchdown) and come as close as he did to being the last man standing, I never would have believed it.

Dear Josh, please accept my apology. You are more than capable of being the Bears’ backup quarterback.

That said, let’s get real. The focus now is on how serious the groin injury to Cutler is, because the full development of this offense and the future of this season for the Bears certainly will require Cutler’s participation if there are to be games in January.

If Cutler is not ready for the Packers the week after the bye and the Lions the next week, the season probably will be over.

Even if Cutler is back and near 100 percent for the Pack, who among you will take the Bears to win that one if Lance Briggs’ shoulder doesn’t allow him to go?

Injuries are absolutely no excuse in the NFL. The Bears are hurting, but there are a number of teams hurting as badly or worse who still are playing quite a bit better than the Bears.

The problem for the Bears, though, is they are themselves, not one of those other clubs. And the two players they can’t afford to play without over any period of time are Cutler and Briggs, and neither was available with the game on the line in the fourth quarter in D.C.

Putting the injuries aside, what did we learn about the Bears?

This new Marc Trestman offense is capable of getting into shootouts and doing enough to win.

This “new-age” Bears defense is capable of losing to any team in the league.

Normally in sports, when we judge teams or players, we take out their best score and their worst and then average the rest. The Redskins game, even with McCown’s stunning performance, is one the Bears won’t be able to forget soon enough.

Against the Redskins, the Bears held the ball for only 7:59 of the first half and were outgained 224-46, averaging only 2.6 yards a play while Washington averaged 9.2. That was with Cutler playing the first 20 minutes.

Although the Bears battled back in the second half, they still ran only 52 plays while Washington ran 73, and the game ended with a 33:56-to-26:04 time of possession advantage for the Redskins.

Althought it is fair to applaud the Bears’ grit, it’s a fool’s errand to ignore the 499 total yards, 209 yards rushing and 38 points the defense allowed the Redskins.

With the Cutler and Briggs injuries, the bye clearly couldn’t be coming at a better time. But, off their performance in Washington, I’m not sure we know any more about this Bears team today than we did when we left Bourbonnais two months ago.

• Hub Arkush covers the Bears for Shaw Media and HubArkush.com. Write to him at harkush@shawmedia.com.