Allen Park — The Lions are trying to say all the right things about the mess of a team they'll face at Soldier Field on Sunday, but some players and coaches couldn't hide their surprise at the decision Bears coaches made to start Jimmy Clausen over Jay Cutler.
News that Clausen, 1-9 as a starter and facing the No. 2 NFL defense, broke around 6:30 p.m. Wednesday. Lions strong safety James Ihedigbo first heard it in a text from his brother.
"At first, I thought it was a joke," Ihedigbo said.
Having lost two games to backups this season — Buffalo's Kyle Orton and Arizona's Drew Stanton — expect Detroit to be guarded, considering a victory clinches its first postseason berth since 2011.
The Bears are 5-9 and in the midst of a three-game losing streak with an average margin of 15.3 points. Offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer apologized to the team last week for being an anonymous source in a story slamming Cutler, who signed a seven-year, $126.7 million contract in January.
Reports also have surfaced that coach Marc Trestman will be fired.
"At 5-9, you know there is going to be that kind of noise," Trestman said during a teleconference Thursday. "I think that if I pay attention to that I'm being very selfish and worried about myself. My only focus is on our football team and any excess energy I spend on anything else is unfair to our players and unfair to our team."
Trestman said he decided to bench Cutler because the Bears weren't getting good enough play from the position, and with the quarterback's 24 turnovers, including six interceptions in the past three weeks, that's a fair analysis.
Clausen, however, hasn't started since his rookie season in 2010. In 13 games, he completed 52.5 percent of his passes, with three touchdowns and nine interceptions. He also has been sacked 33 times and has a passer rating of 58.4. This season, he's 3-for-9 for 42 yards and one sack.
Still, the decision to bench big-money Cutler was a big surprise.
"Regardless of if he's having a rough year, you stick by your guy," Ihedigbo said. "But hey, that's their situation. We're worried about winning games and getting this 11th win."
Bears players were taken aback, too.
"It was surprising at first to hear the news, but we have the utmost confidence in the people upstairs," right guard Kyle Long said. "You get torn between a decision involving one of your good friends and your quarterback, but you have to put emotions and opinions to the side when you're dealing with something like this."
Lions coach Jim Caldwell had a surprising breakdown of the two quarterbacks Thursday.
"Cutler is a little different guy," he said. "He's a pretty incredible quarterback just in terms of athleticism, ability and those kinds of things, and he's got experience.
"Clausen is very capable, though."
If Clausen isn't capable, Trestman said Cutler will be the backup and an available option.
Lions receiver Golden Tate, who played with Clausen at Notre Dame, said he sent the quarterback a congratulatory text upon hearing the decision, but reminded him the Lions defense will try to take him down as much as possible.
"I hope he does well," Tate said. "I hope he stays safe out there."
The Lions also expect the Bears to have a different game plan than they did Thanksgiving Day, when Detroit won 34-17. The Bears gave up trying to run the ball early, finishing with eight carries for 13 yards. Matt Forte, one of the NFL's top backs, had five carries for 6 yards.
"I'd anticipate that he's going to get it a lot more," Caldwell said.
Caldwell described Clausen as accurate coming out of college and a good leader, but he doesn't have the arm talent of Cutler.
Still, though the Bears are in the midst of a turbulent close to the season, Caldwell said the Lions can't afford to look past them.
"You find sometimes that some controversy will galvanize them and things of that nature," Caldwell said.