THE THOUGHT crossed Jay Cutler's mind as soon as he found out he was being benched: He might have played his final game for Chicago.
The Bears announced yesterday that they will start Jimmy Clausen against the Detroit Lions on Sunday instead of the man who signed a massive, 7-year deal at the end of last season.
Coach Marc Trestman said Cutler will be available as the backup at Soldier Field, where boos have rained down on a punchless, porous team that is now 5-9 and playing out the string after starting the season with legitimate hopes of a playoff run. The Bears will miss the postseason for the seventh time in 8 years and it's unclear whether Trestman - or Cutler - will be back for another try.
"I would like to stay here," Cutler said. "I really like it here. I love the guys in the locker room that I get to play with. Clearly, it's a different circumstance now. But going forward, this is where I'd like to be."
The move comes after Trestman pledged his allegiance to Cutler as the starter several times the past few weeks.
"Certainly, it was not an easy decision," Trestman said. "In my mind those types of decisions never are, and I worked it through and think it through not only myself but with our staff."
Trestman said he met with general manager Phil Emery on Tuesday and informed Cutler and Clausen of his decision on Wednesday. He met again with Emery later in the day to discuss his decision and informed the staff that night.
Cutler was taken aback by the decision, saying that he was "Shocked, I think at first. And then, I think disappointed."
Asked if he believed the team was committed to him, Cutler responded: "I don't know if I can answer that."
Cutler leads the league in interceptions (18) and turnovers (24) and he was benched after arguably his worst game of the season in Monday's loss to New Orleans. He threw three interceptions and got sacked a season-high seven times as the Bears fell meekly at home to the Saints, 31-15.
"Obviously, it's tough on him," Clausen - who was 1-9 in 10 starts as a rookie with Carolina in 2010 - said of Cutler. "Being the starting quarterback and coach going a different way, it's obviously going to be tough on him, but he's been great with me."
* Dallas running back DeMarco Murray was a limited practice participant in his first official work with the team since undergoing surgery on Monday to repair a broken bone in his left hand. He had a metal plate and screws inserted to repair a fractured fourth metacarpal, suffered in the fourth quarter of last Sunday's victory against the Eagles.
Murray did some individual work on Wednesday but didn't officially participate in practice. Yesterday, he did individual work and got some team rep as the Cowboys gauged his ability to function following the surgery. That he was able to grip the ball was a key part of the equation and Murray seemed to do that just fine in practice.
Guard Zach Martin (ankle) and tackle Doug Free (ankle) missed their second day of practice after being injured against the Eagles. Martin may be a game-time decision on Sunday while Free is not expected to play.
* St. Louis Rams tight end Jared Cook and four teammates who recently did the "Hands Up, Don't Shoot" gesture before a game are following through on plans to aid residents in nearby Ferguson, Mo.
Cook and wide receivers Kenny Britt, Tavon Austin, Stedman Bailey and Chris Givens contributed $10,000 to an Urban League of St. Louis Christmas Party today for residents of Ferguson and north St. Louis County.
Their donations helped purchase gloves, hats, socks, underwear, non-perishable food items, detergent, personal hygiene items and 200 coats. After practice today, the five players planned to attend the event.
"We're just going there because of what's going on around the country," Britt said, "and to show the people in Ferguson we're not just here to protest, we're here to help fix the community as well."
* San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh is declining to respond to reports that he is weighing an offer from Michigan to become the coach at his alma mater.
* Peyton Manning is over the flu but not his strained right thigh. Denver's quarterback was limited when the Broncos reconvened for their first practice since their win at San Diego on Sunday.
* The Panthers' Cam Newton will "probably" start Sunday against Cleveland barring any physical setbacks this week, Carolina coach Ron Rivera said after the quarterback practiced yesterday. Newton was a full participant in practice, 9 days after he was involved in a two-vehicle crash that left him hospitalized with two fractures in his lower back. He declared himself pain-free after the workout.
* Seattle signed linebacker K.J. Wright to a 4-year contract extension, keeping one of their key players from reaching free agency. No financial terms were immediately available.
* Houston receiver Andre Johnson expects to play on Sunday against Baltimore after missing last week's game because of a concussion. Johnson says he finished the league's concussion protocol and has been cleared to return. He was injured when he was hit in the head by Jaguars linebacker Telvin Smith on Dec. 7.