As the closing minutes of the Chicago Bears' latest loss ticked away, Jay Cutler was long gone, having missed most of the final three quarters with a groin injury.
Linebacker Lance Briggs and cornerback Charles Tillman stood shoulder-to-shoulder on the sideline, arms crossed and helmets off. Also hurt, they were able only to watch -- and not help -- as teammates tried to stop Robert Griffin III and the rest of the Washington Redskins' offense.
While Josh McCown did yeoman's work substituting for Cutler, Chicago's defense was too tired and in tatters to really stand much of a chance, and the Bears lost to the Redskins 45-41 Sunday. The most pressing question afterward was how long Cutler will be out, and coach Marc Trestman wasn't sure.
Asked how seriously Cutler was injured, Trestman replied: "I don't have any sense at all. I'm just going to wait and see what the doctors say."
Cutler is scheduled to have an MRI exam Monday.
"He'll be evaluated when we get back and we'll know more in the next couple days," Trestman said.
The Bears (4-3) have lost three of the past four games, and their bye week could hardly be coming at a better time. In addition to Cutler, key defensive players Briggs (shoulder) and Tillman (knee) left in the second half.
"You can't make excuses, but it's going to help. We're going to be a fresher team, certainly, when we come out of this break," Trestman said.
Cutler was sacked by 333-pound nose tackle Chris Baker with about 10 minutes left in the first half. Cutler stayed down for a few minutes, clutching at the top of his left leg.
Eventually, Cutler got up and limped off. He soon was walking gingerly toward the visitors' locker room and didn't return.
"When you're close to somebody, and they get hurt, man, your heart just kind of sinks, but at the same time, you've got to process that emotion and move on and get ready to play," McCown said. "So I was bummed, said a prayer, grabbed a helmet, got some throws and got ready to play."
It was McCown's first appearance in a regular-season NFL game since the final week of the 2011 season, and he did it without the benefit of any first-team practice reps since this season began.
"He's been around the game a lot in this league," Trestman said. "He functioned like a starting quarterback when he stepped in there."
McCown was 14 for 20 for 204 yards, with one touchdown pass and zero interceptions.
"Josh took over the huddle, moved the football team. ... I didn't ask him what he liked; what he didn't like. I just called the plays according to the plan we had put together," Trestman said. "I thought he functioned very well in the offense."
McCown's 7-yard touchdown toss to tight end Martellus Bennett put Chicago ahead 41-38 with a little under four minutes remaining in the game. Robert Griffin III then led Washington on a drive capped by a 3-yard TD run by Roy Helu Jr. for the go-ahead points.
McCown also ran four times for 33 yards.
That scrambling did make some teammates nervous: The Bears do not have a third quarterback on the roster. If McCown had needed to leave the game, Bennett would have been the next option, Trestman said.
"You see them talking to Earl and kind of getting him ready, and I'm like, 'Oh, yeah, there's nobody else,'" McCown said.
He and Trestman said the quick-strike passing game that worked well for McCown was part of the game plan against the Redskins all along, and was not an adjustment made when the backup QB went in.
"I have to give him credit," Redskins coach Mike Shanahan said. "He made some good plays when guys were covered."
Still, the change affected things.
"When your starting quarterback goes down, and you are used to him playing, it kind of does something mentally to you," Bears running back Matt Forte said.
Before leaving, Cutler was 3 for 8 for 28 yards and an interception that was returned for a touchdown by linebacker Brian Orakpo.
"Actually, when you knock a starter out in this league, you expect to dominate the backup, not vice versa — knock the starter out and the backup comes in and lights you up," Redskins cornerback DeAngelo Hall said.
McCown was asked what differences there are between his skills and Cutler's.
"Have you seen him throw?" McCown said with a grin. "Obviously, there's a difference with the velocity at which the ball travels when Jay throws it and when I throw it. We have to play the game in different ways."
Notes: Tillman intercepted Griffin in the first half. ... Redskins S Reed Doughty got a concussion. ... Bears KR Devin Hester tied Hall of Famer Deion Sanders' NFL record with his 19th return for a touchdown, bringing back a punt 81 yards in the second quarter. Hester hadn't scored on a return since Nov. 13, 2011. ... Bears PK Robbie Gould missed a 34-yard field-goal attempt in the third quarter.