Jey Cutler had led the Bears to a 7-3 record and five straight wins before breaking his thumb in Sunday's game against the Chargers.
LAKE FOREST, Ill. — The Bears are confident Jay Cutler will return this season from a broken thumb on his right throwing hand, so there was a glimmer of hope to go with the big chill that just blew through Chicago.
Even so, this is a major blow for the Bears.
Cutler needs surgery and will be out "for an extended time," coach Lovie Smith said Monday. He would not say when the operation will take place, just "hopefully fairly quick," and provided few details about the specific nature of the injury.
He did make one thing clear, though.
"Is it a season-ending injury? No," Smith said. "From what I've been told right now, we can expect him back at the end of the regular season."
The regular-season finale is Jan. 1 at Minnesota.
With Cutler out, the Bears will turn to backup Caleb Hanie against Oakland this weekend and they will also look to bring in a veteran quarterback.
Hanie has thrown just 14 regular-season passes in four years. He made some plays in the NFC championship game against Green Bay last season after Cutler was injured and Todd Collins struggled, helping keep the Bears in it, but Chicago ultimately lost to the Packers.
Cutler was injured trying to help tackle Antoine Cason on an interception return in the fourth quarter of Sunday's 31-20 victory over the San Diego Chargers, and Smith was unaware of the extent of the injury until after the game.
Cutler stayed in and finished with 286 yards passing. He threw for two touchdowns and ran for another while leading the Bears (7-3) to their fifth straight win, but his injury is a hit for a team that made a big leap into contention in the NFC.
"It's devastating," linebacker Brian Urlacher said. "It's horrible, and I felt worse for him than I did for us. It stinks for us because he's having such a great year. He's our leader. He's the guy we turn to for pretty much everything."
The Bears also lost long snapper Patrick Mannelly to a season-ending torn anterior-cruciate ligament in his knee, but the big news, obviously, was Cutler's injury.
"We're going to miss a great player for a period of time," Smith said.
PETERSON'S STATUS IN QUESTION: Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson has a high ankle sprain that will put him in a walking boot this week, leaving his availability for Sunday's game at Atlanta in question.
Coach Leslie Frazier said Monday that Peterson has a Grade 1 sprain, the least severe of the three categories, with "a little bit of" ligament damage. But Peterson will wear the boot for a few days to protect the joint and won't try to practice until Friday to determine if he'll be able to play against the Falcons.
"The good news is there's nothing more serious than that," Frazier said, adding: "He'll recover from it. It's just the amount of time that he'll miss. We'll have a better indication toward the end of the week."
Peterson was unavailable for comment Monday. He said Sunday the ankle hurt "pretty bad," but he also reminded reporters, "I'm a tough individual."
Peterson's left ankle rolled hard late in the first quarter on Sunday against Oakland while he was tackled at the end of a run. He didn't return. Peterson has missed only three games in his decorated five-year NFL career. He's currently sixth in the league in rushing with 872 yards, and his 11 rushing touchdowns are the most this season of any player.
"We don't want to put him at risk. You know how valuable he is to our team and our franchise," Frazier said. "So we'll monitor where he is and try to make a good decision with what's best for him and what's best for our team as well."
With the Vikings long out of the playoff chase, they might be wise to sit Peterson and give him more time to heal. But Frazier said the decision on whether to play him on Sunday will be "purely based on his health."
Either way, second-year running back Toby Gerhart will probably get more carries at Atlanta. Gerhart has just 24 rushing attempts, four fewer than wide receiver Percy Harvin, whose speed and skills have prompted the Vikings to use him in a variety of ways.
RYAN FINED $75K: Rex Ryan's mouth really cost him this time.
The brash New York Jets coach was fined $75,000 by the NFL for using profanity while angrily responding to a fan at halftime of New York's 37-16 loss to New England last Sunday.
A 49-second video shot by a fan at MetLife Stadium shows the Jets walking off the field and when Ryan appears, someone is heard yelling, "Hey, Rex, Belichick is better than you," referring to Patriots coach Bill Belichick. Ryan looks up and tells the fan to "shut up" while also using an obscenity.
Ryan apologized a day later for what he called "a mistake," saying he "was full of emotion and just popped off." Moments earlier, the Jets had just allowed the Patriots to take a 13-9 lead into halftime. He added that he's aware that he represents the franchise and the league, but isn't "perfect by any stretch."
"Sometimes," he said, "my emotions get the best of me."
It's not the first time Ryan is in trouble because of his mouth, which likely contributed to the hefty punishment. He was fined $50,000 by the Jets in February 2010 after he was caught on a cellphone camera giving the middle finger to a fan during a mixed martial arts event in Florida.
The Jets will not further discipline Ryan for the latest incident, saying it was a game-related matter.
General manager Mike Tannenbaum said in a statement last week that he and Ryan discussed what happened and the coach "knows that his behavior was not acceptable."