(Reuters) - Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler has a broken thumb on his throwing hand and will need surgery that will sideline him for an extended period of time, the National Football League (NFL) team said on Monday.
But Bears coach Love Smith told his weekly news conference he expected Cutler would return before the regular season ends January 1.
His loss for any extended time would be a major blow to the Bears (7-3), who have won five games in a row to share second place with the Detroit Lions in the NFC North Division.
Cutler injured the thumb while trying to tackle San Diego cornerback Antoine Cason after an interception early in the fourth quarter of Sunday's 31-20 win over the Chargers.
He finished the game, completing 18 of 31 passes for 286 yards and two touchdowns. He also scored on a one-yard run.
Backup Caleb Hanie is expected to start on Sunday when the Bears play at Oakland.
"We feel comfortable with him being our quarterback," Smith said. "It's always next guy up."
(Reporting by Gene Cherry in Salvo, North Carolina; Editing by Julian Linden)