By Adam Hoge-
HALAS HALL (CBS) — With no one open and the pocket breaking down, Josh McCown had one thought on his mind.
“I was trying to get back to the line of scrimmage because I didn’t want to give up a sack,” he said Thursday.
With three Packers players chasing him from behind, McCown wasn’t worried about avoiding contact or taking a hit. For him, the 43-yard-line might as well have been the goal line. He didn’t want his offensive line pinned with a sack.
“I felt like things were covered and I had to move, but I know how hard those guys work to not give up sacks,” he said.
Unfortunately, a questionable spot cost the Bears a yard on the play, so it did go down as a sack, but it was the only one the offensive line allowed in a 27-20 win over the Packers Nov. 4.
Of course, you may be wondering why Josh McCown is so worried about statistics.
He’s not, really. At least not his own.
“I know it’s not a big deal, I don’t care about statistics, but I just didn’t want them to have a sack on their record because I know how hard they work. I appreciate the way that they go about their jobs. I think they get after it and they work really hard,” McCown said.
That’s really Josh McCown in a nutshell. The guy who sometimes wanders into special teams huddles is the ultimate teammate and there’s really no way to exaggerate that normally boring cliché.
And that’s exactly why Bears general manager Phil Emery felt comfortable bringing McCown back this year as Jay Cutler’s backup quarterback, despite the rest of the league having given up on the 34-year-old journeyman.
Remember, just two years ago, McCown was an assistant coach at Marvin Ridge High School in Waxhaw, N.C.
Now he has a 103.2 passer rating while filling in for Cutler in three games, including the start and win against the Packers.
While new Bears head coach Marc Trestman was brought to Chicago to get the most out of Cutler, his reputation as “The Quarterback Whisperer” has undoubtedly had an impact on McCown too. The “backup” is playing the best football of his career, even if he won’t allow himself to stop and think about it.
“It would probably be better to step back after the season, but I feel like right now I’m just trying to play efficient football and just try to do what we’re asked to do, do my job, what the play’s called for me to do and execute that,” McCown said.
It’s safe to say he has done exactly that. He’s completed 42-of-70 passing attempts for 538 yards, four touchdowns and, most importantly, zero interceptions. Sunday, he’ll have a chance to build on those numbers against the Ravens as Cutler sits out with an ankle injury.
“I know that Phil (Emery) was extremely high on him in terms of what he can do for our locker room and the position, the backup quarterback,” Trestman said Thursday. “I just got to know him as we’ve moved along and he’s always the same every day. He’s the kind of quarterback that you want to have when you come to work every day.”
It doesn’t hurt that McCown is always one of the first to join Trestman at work every day, arriving at Halas Hall by 6 a.m.
McCown knows his place — even if his play this year suggests he’s deserving of a regular starting job somewhere in the league. He’s been around long enough to know he’s getting paid by the Chicago Bears to help prepare Jay Cutler just as much as he’s getting paid to throw touchdown passes when Cutler is hurt. When he’s not playing, he’s an extension of the coaching staff. During the week, he’s in every meeting with Trestman and Cutler, giving his input and suggestions. During games, he makes sure Cutler has every play call as Trestman immediately turns his attention to the next play.
“As a backup, how can I add value to my team?’ It means first and foremost, you’ve got to be able to play well on the field because your job is to be ready to play when somebody gets hurt,” McCown said. “But then after that, as long as you’re ready to play, then what else can I do to help the starter be ready to play?”
It doesn’t hurt that McCown is able to get along with Cutler too. That’s valuable in and of itself. The two are very good friends.
“If there’s something that I say or do that either eases Jay’s mind or reminds him about something about a play that you can do as a backup, then I think you’ve added value overall to your team,” McCown said. “Then, on the other side of it, as a friend it works both ways. I think we both value that. There are things that I can help him (with) along the road as a man and he can help me. That’s great, too.”
It’s somewhat strange because the two are opposites in many ways. Cutler’s abrasive personality is well documented, while McCown goes out of his way to be nice to everybody — even the media. In the same week Cutler called a reporter an “idiot” — deservedly so, by the way — McCown sought out that same reporter after his press conference at Lambeau Field. He wanted to make sure that reporter didn’t take offense to him slightly objecting to the question that had been asked just moments before.
McCown admits that there is “always that desire to want to be the guy and the star” — and he may indeed earn himself another starting job in the NFL somewhere next year — but he knows he can’t let that affect the way he approaches his job with the Chicago Bears.
“It never comes to the point where you’re not helpful to the other guy,” he said. “I think every backup goes through that point.”
Last week, when Cutler returned to practice from his groin injury, a reporter asked McCown if he was disappointed about going back to the bench.
“Playing is not what drives me,” McCown said. “The source of joy in my life is not playing. There’s so many other things. This is just the job that I have and that I’ve been given. Do I get joy from playing? Absolutely. But it’s not the core source for me. So whether that comes and goes is not going to change how I feel because that’s not where my humility comes from.”
And how McCown feels is clear: “The best thing for our team is for Jay Cutler to be our quarterback.”
That’s true, in part because it means McCown is the backup. That has plenty of value too.
Adam Hoge covers the Bears for CBSChicago.com and is a frequent contributor to 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter at @AdamHoge.