By Adam Hoge-
LANDOVER, Md. (CBS) — Jay Cutler. Down.
You’ve seen it before. And you know what it means.
Game over. Season over.
But maybe not this time.
Sunday, at Fed Ex Field, Cutler went down with a groin injury in the second quarter and the game was far from over. In fact, his replacement was the main reason why the Bears had a chance to win in what turned out to be a 45-41 loss that dropped them to 4-3 right before the bye week.
Josh McCown, who before Sunday had only attempted a pass in four NFL games since the end of the 2007 season, came in and led the Bears to four scoring drives in the second half, including three touchdowns and a field goal. Another drive ended in a missed field goal.
In fact, with McCown at quarterback, the Bears didn’t punt a single time in the second half.
So how does a 34-year-old journeyman who was seemingly retired after 2009 and coaching high school football just two years ago come into a game with virtually no practice reps and succeed?
“It’s a credit to the coaches and Marc (Trestman) and the guys, really because they talk about doing things for your teammates and things like that and just being selfless,” McCown said. “So for me, it was like, everybody else, the other guys, 45 guys who have uniforms on right now, they expect me to play and play well and give
us a chance to win.”
It is a credit to Trestman. More specifically, it’s a credit to his offense.
In the past, when Cutler went down, there was no offense. Sunday, when Cutler went down, the offense with just getting started.
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The ultra-prepared Trestman didn’t back off the game plan, but he did call high-percentage pass plays and mix in a good amount of runs to keep the Redskins on their heels.
“It helps,” McCown said when asked about short, quick throws. “When you pick the ball up and throw it as a quarterback you start to feel a good rhythm happening. The offensive line and run game, those quick throws, but what was cool was those were a part of our game plan. Those were the things we were going to take advantage of regardless of who was playing quarterback and so we executed those well. That’s what I’m pleased about.”
It also helps to have weapons to get the ball to. But in the past, there was a disconnect when it came to getting the ball from the quarterback to one of those weapons. Trestman called plays that got the ball into the hands of his playmakers quickly, allowing the Bears to keep the ball moving.
Whether it was a screen to Alshon Jeffery, or a fake bubble screen to Marquess Wilson before handing off to Matt Forte, or just short, quick slants to Brandon Marshall, McCown was put in a position to succeed. And he executed.
Of course, McCown deserves a ton of credit for the way he delivered. Not only has he only appeared in four games over the last five seasons, he also gets zero reps with the first-team in practice, and nothing more.
“I wish I could say there was some (reps), because it would sound better, but there’s none. I mean, it’s just how it is and that’s uniform throughout the league,” McCown said.
So instead, the backup quarterback stands behind the plays in practice with backup center Taylor Boggs and goes through the progressions on his own.
“I appreciate him doing that with me because it helped me today,” McCown said.
Of course, there are plenty of mental reps and meetings. McCown may be the backup quarterback, but the Bears depend on him. Jay Cutler depends on him. McCown has proven to be an extension of the coaching staff and he knows the offense inside and out.
That, plus a game plan and a playbook filled with high percentage throws, helped McCown overcome the obvious talent gap between he and Cutler.
“Have you seen him throw?,” McCown said when asked what Cutler can do that he can’t.
That talent gap isn’t going to change and there’s no one else on the planet the Bears can bring into Halas Hall Monday to match what Cutler can do with his right arm.
But not all is lost with McCown under center. Not with Marc Trestman running the show.
So can McCown still lead the Bears to the playoffs if Cutler is unable to return?
“That’s the idea. That’s why I’m here. That’s my plan, certainly,” McCown said.
It won’t be easy. The Bears won’t be playing the Redskins’ defense every week. And the problems with the Bears’ defense aren’t going away.
After all, despite everything McCown did Sunday, the Bears still lost the game.
But at least there’s still an offense without Cutler.
There didn’t used to be.
Adam Hoge covers the Bears for CBSChicago.com and is a frequent contributor to 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter at @AdamHoge.