LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- The Chicago Bears insisted all along that quarterback Jay Cutler would get his job back once he was ready, no matter how well Josh McCown was playing.
On Thursday, they stuck to their word.
Coach Marc Trestman said Cutler will start Sunday at Cleveland after missing four games because of a high left ankle sprain.
McCown goes back to a reserve role after excelling.
"I don't think that risk was part of this decision," Trestman said. "This decision was made a long time ago. That was that when Jay was ready to play, that he would play. That's how we planned to do it, so I don't look at it like that. I look at it, Jay's our quarterback, and when he was ready to play, he was going to play, and that's the same words I used a month ago and there's no change today."
Cutler worked with the receivers following Wednesday's walkthrough. Trestman said there was no swelling or any "residual issues" from that, and he was a full participant in Thursday's practice.
He also said Cutler is "100 per cent or certainly close to it if not."
The news on linebacker Lance Briggs wasn't quite as promising. He participated on a limited basis and Trestman wasn't optimistic about him returning this week, meaning he could miss his seventh straight game because of a broken shoulder.
Cutler's return comes on the heels of a blowout win over Dallas on Monday night that vaulted the Bears back into the NFC North race after back-to-back losses at St. Louis and Minnesota. They're tied with Detroit at 7-6, but the Lions beat them twice.
That includes the game at Soldier Field on Nov. 10, when Cutler returned after sitting out the previous week because of a groin injury only to hurt his ankle when a defensive player rolled up it. He stayed in until the Bears' final drive, even though he was labouring, when McCown led them to a touchdown and the potential tying two-point conversion failed.
Cutler was hoping to return against Dallas. Instead, he'll face the Browns, a team that's 4-9 after losing four straight but boasts one of the league's top defences. They're seventh overall and tied for eighth against the pass.
Lurking not too far beneath the surface is that Cutler has an uncertain future with an expiring contract.
"Can't worry about it," he said. "We're trying to win football games. Whatever it takes to win that game, that's kind of my mindset. It'll take care of itself. It always does."
When healthy, Cutler has played as well as he has since he arrived from Denver before the 2009 season. He has thrown for just over 1,900 yards, and his 88.4 rating is his highest as a Bear.
More than anything, he appeared to be clicking with Trestman, which was one of the main reasons Lovie Smith was fired after last season. The Bears wanted to get the most out of their quarterback, so they switched to an offensive-minded head coach.
McCown has also excelled in Trestman's system, and there were at least some calls to stay with the hot hand.
Cutler insisted he's not paying attention to that debate, saying he's simply focusing on Cleveland. McCown provided plenty of fuel through his play even if he and Trestman did their best to squash any controversy, saying all along that the job still belonged to Cutler.
"There is not a debate in this building so that is kind of where my concern lies," Cutler said.
If nothing else, the Bears know they can count on McCown if they need him again. Considering he was coaching high school football in North Carolina when they first signed him during the 2011 season, that's not bad.
McCown has thrown for more than 1,800 yards and completed nearly 67 per cent of his passes in seven appearances. He has 13 touchdowns and just one interception, and his performance against Dallas might have been his best.
He became the first player in franchise history with three straight 300-yard passing games, throwing for 348 yards and a career-high four touchdowns. He also ran for one, getting spun like a helicopter as he leaped into the end zone, but he's headed back to the sideline.
"I'll do everything I can to help him," McCown said. "And he's going to study, he's going to work hard and he's going to put himself in a position to be successful. Before he got hurt he was playing some of the best ball of his career. So there's no reason to think that won't continue."
If Cutler struggles this week, could he get a quick hook?
"I wouldn't be prepared for any of those hypotheticals," Trestman said. "We plan on him playing and playing well and those situations come up game by game with anybody. But I wouldn't go near that one other than the fact that I expect Jay to play efficiently and play well and that's why he's going to be up."