The Chicago Bears aren't ruling out an early return for quarterback Jay Cutler from a torn groin muscle that was expected to sideline him for at least four weeks..
Cutler hopes to be back sooner than that.
"That's the goal," he said.
Cutler addressed the media Tuesday for the first time since he was injured in a loss at Washington on Oct. 20. The Bears said he would miss at least a month and be evaluated week to week after that.
Coach Marc Trestman said that timeline was based on what doctors said is the norm for a player with Cutler's injury. It doesn't mean he can't come back sooner. He also said the doctors will decide when Cutler is ready.
"It could happen faster," Trestman said. "Jay's optimistic; we all are. But I'm not saying we're not bringing Jay back for four weeks. That's what the doctors have said and we'll work off that timeline. If it happens quicker, that would be great."
Trestman did not declare Cutler out for Monday's game at Green Bay but said it's "highly unlikely" he would play.
"You never want to say never," he said. "I would say it's highly unlikely that Jay will be playing on Monday night, but I would not want to make it 100 per cent at this point in time."
Assuming Cutler sits out as expected, Josh McCown will start.
The Bears host Detroit the following week, and while receiver Brandon Marshall told Chicago's WMVP-AM 1000 on Monday the quarterback would be ready for that game, Cutler grinned when asked about that.
"He's optimistic. And so am I," Cutler said. "So we'll see how it goes."
Cutler got knocked out of the Redskins game early in the second quarter on a sack by Chris Baker. He stayed down for several minutes and limped off the field.
Besides Cutler, Chicago also lost Pro Bowl linebacker Lance Briggs to a small fracture in his left shoulder in that game. He was expected to miss about six weeks, leaving the struggling Bears (4-3) without their most important players on offence and defence.
They've dropped three of four, and after an off week, the schedule isn't exactly taking an easy turn.
Stopping Aaron Rodgers and the Packers, not to mention Ndamukong Suh and the Lions, would have been tough enough at full strength. Now, the Bears are trying to keep pace in the NFC North with key pieces missing.
Cutler was enjoying his best season in recent memory in his first year under Trestman, but things took a bad turn for him at Washington. He struggled in that game, and when he went down, there was no hiding his agony.
"This has been the most significant pain-wise that I've had," Cutler said.
He said he's seeing improvement but wouldn't get into specifics about his recovery or his rehab.
Assuming he doesn't make an early comeback, this is the second time in three years that Cutler is missing a significant portion of the season because of an injury. In 2011, a broken thumb kept him out of the final six games and sent the Bears into a freefall that cost general manager Jerry Angelo his job.
The groin injury is causing him to miss time in a contract year and could have heavy financial ramifications after the season.
"Doesn't matter what year it is, you never want to get injured," Cutler said.
For now, he said he's pushing himself as much as he can. He played some catch during Tuesday's practice but did not move around, Trestman said.
The Bears believe they're in a better position to get by without Cutler than they were in 2011 because of the weapons they now have. Pro Bowl receiver Brandon Marshall wasn't around back then, nor were Alshon Jeffery or tight end Martellus Bennett, and running back Matt Forte missed the final four games that year with a knee injury.
McCown will have help around him. As for Cutler?
"Whenever they give me the green light, we're going to go in there rocking and we can't look back," he said. "So whenever that happens, you'll see me out there."