Just when it looked like Jay Cutler may have played his last snap in a Chicago Bears uniform, coach Marc Trestman is turning back to the enigmatic quarterback. Sunday's season finale against the host Minnesota Vikings could mark the end for both key figures.
General manager Phil Emery, offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer and defensive coordinator Mel Tucker could also be gone after the Bears (5-10) missed the playoffs for the seventh time in eight years. Though it's hard to put all the blame on Cutler, his play has been especially disappointing after agreeing to a seven-year deal in January. He leads the NFL with 18 interceptions and 24 turnovers and ranks 17th in QB rating at 89.5.
Cutler was benched in favor of Jimmy Clausen ahead of last Sunday's 20-14 loss to Detroit, but he's getting another shot with Clausen unable to go due to a concussion suffered on the game's final drive.
"Jay gives us the best chance this week. And so that's why. That's why he'll be out there," Trestman said. "I believe that Jay can work his way out of this. And I've enjoyed coaching him and working with him. And we had dialogue last week. And we worked together last week. It was a tough week on him. I empathize with him on that. But we're moving forward, both with the idea that we've worked together for a long time and that hasn't changed."
Cutler is owed more than $15 million in 2015, but it remains to be seen if he'll be back with the team.
"I feel really bad for Jay," injured kicker Robbie Gould told a local radio station. "When you're having a tough season like this, he's not the guy to be the scapegoat. ... There's a lot of guys you can put that blame on."
Trestman's future also remains in limbo after going 13-18 since replacing Lovie Smith last season. Chicago has averaged just 20.7 points after scoring 27.8 per game in 2013 to rank second in the NFL.
The Bears have been outscored by an average of 13.0 points during a four-game losing streak, their longest since dropping five in a row Nov. 27-Dec. 25, 2011.
Chicago hasn't tasted victory since getting the best of Smith in a 21-13 win over Tampa Bay on Nov. 23. The Bears held on to beat Minnesota by the same score the week before as Cutler threw for 330 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions.
Cutler has recorded 20 TD passes and 11 picks in winning seven of his last eight starts in the series. However, Chicago has dropped nine of 12 at Minnesota after suffering a 23-20 overtime defeat Dec. 1, 2013, with Josh McCown under center.
The Vikings (6-9) have also encountered their fair share of drama after losing All-Pro running back Adrian Peterson to suspension back in Week 2. The two-time NFL rushing leader was indicted in September on a felony charge of injury to a child and is anything but certain to return next year.
However, there remains optimism around the team thanks in large part to Teddy Bridgewater's recent play. The 32nd overall pick in this year's draft has thrown two TD passes in four of the last five weeks, a stretch during which Minnesota has averaged 26.2 points to rank ninth in the NFL.
"It's pretty incredible to me what he's done, how he's handled it, the things he's gotten done and what he's really done is made everyone around him better and that's a quality that you're looking for,'' offensive coordinator Norv Turner said.
Bridgewater completed 19 of 26 passes for 259 yards with two TDs and an interception in last Sunday's wild 37-35 loss at Miami. Minnesota was outscored 23-18 in the fourth quarter, including 9-0 over the final 1:11 after allowing the winning safety with 41 seconds to go.
"One of the worst defensive performances I've seen in a long time," said coach Mike Zimmer, whose team gave up a season-worst 493 yards of offense. "All of the things I've been trying to preach for 11 months, we didn't do."
Minnesota will need to be wary of Bears wideout Alshon Jeffery, who's hauled in seven touchdowns over the last six games. Jeffery has 23 receptions for 384 yards and three scores in his last two against the Vikings.
Matt Forte has compiled 326 total yards in those contests, but he hasn't scored against Minnesota since his 2008 rookie season. Forte is averaging 118.1 yards from scrimmage to rank fourth in the NFL.
Vikings running back Matt Asiata is tied for third in the league with nine rushing TDs after scoring three times in the last two weeks.
This marks Jared Allen's first return to Minnesota, where he spent the previous six years before signing with Chicago in March. Allen had five tackles and a sack against his former team last month, but his 5 1/2 sacks on the season are his fewest since recording a career-low 7 1/2 in 2006.
The Bears placed defensive end Willie Young on injured reserve with a torn Achilles suffered last week. Minnesota released little-used running back Ben Tate on Tuesday.