Hoge: McCown Keeping Playoff Hopes Alive
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By Adam Hoge-
SOLDIER FIELD (CBS) — The wind was so bad Josh McCown couldn’t help but glance at the sidelines and think about the quarterbacks standing over there.
On one side was Joe Flacco. On the other, Jay Cutler.
“I’m like, can I borrow someone’s arm?,” McCown said. “Definitely one of those days that I wish I could spin it like those guys.”
Like it mattered. McCown outplayed Flacco and completed his latest strong performance as Cutler’s backup, posting a 92.9 passer rating in brutal weather conditions as the Bears beat the Baltimore Ravens 23-20 in overtime.
On a day that included a nearly two-hour weather delay, swirling gusts of wind up to 59 miles per hour, torrential downpours and a playing surface that probably has Roger Goodell seeing dollar signs as he thinks about an “NFL On Ice” spinoff, McCown was 19-of-31 for 216 yards and a touchdown.
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Most importantly, he didn’t turn the ball over. In fact, the Bears didn’t have any turnovers despite dealing with muddy, slippery footballs all afternoon.
McCown told CBSChicago.com that the mud is what messed with his head the most in those conditions, as sometimes it was hard to find a grip on the football as he dropped back to pass. He also admitted it was hard to trust his throws with the wind as unpredictable as it was.
But the voice of the Quarterback Whisperer helped him keep his poise.
“When it’s breezy, swing easy.”
That was the message from head coach Marc Trestman when it came to the weather conditions.
“If you grip the ball harder and grit your teeth, it’s going to wobble. And when it wobbles, it’s going to move,” McCown said. “If you can just throw spirals, stay relaxed, you should be all right. You should be able to cut the wind, to a degree.”
McCown did just that, staying accurate for most of the day and doing enough to win. Sure, he missed a couple of open receivers while going through his progressions, but it couldn’t have been easy in those conditions. And when it mattered most, he delivered a beautiful pass deep down the field to Martellus Bennett for a 42-yard gain to set up the game-winning 38-yard field goal in overtime.
“I don’t know if it was blowing as much,” McCown said. “I know that when the call came in I was a bit concerned because I knew the ball was getting downfield. With those guys it’s just getting it in their circle and let them make a play.”
Not only did Bennett make a play, but he made one no tight end on the Bears’ roster could have made a year ago, using his body to go up and catch the ball at its highest point, then keeping his balance to pick up even more yards after the catch.
So it was no surprise that general manager Phil Emery — the man who brought Bennett to Chicago in the offseason — found his tight end after the game and, according to Bennett, whispered in his ear: “That’s a way to make a play.”
Bennett’s reply was much louder, as he told Emery: “All I want to do is make plays.”
“I just want to make a difference,” he told CBSChicago.com later.
Bennett made the difference Sunday, even it was only one of two catches he made on the day. The play called for a slant-and-go to Brandon Marshall with the Ravens in a single-high safety look, leaving cornerback Lardarius Webb on Bennett.
“I ran the seam-route, which is what I always want to run,” Bennett said.
It’s a route all offenses want to run with their tight ends, but most teams lack the player with the athleticism and receiving ability to bring the ball down.
Of course, the pass needs to be there too. And McCown put it in the right spot.
That’s why moments after speaking with Bennett, Emery found McCown and embraced him in a long hug.
It’s the least he could do for the quarterback who is doing more than his part on and off the field to hold this team together as it deals with injury after injury. With the way he’s playing and leading the Bears’ offense, you might even say he looks like a starting quarterback.
“No,” McCown protested. “I just feel like — I’ve said this over and over again — I’m the backup quarterback on this team. And the way that I serve my team is to play when the starter is not healthy. Jay is our starting quarterback. There’s no doubt about that. And for me, it’s just serve our team in my role and that’s all I want to do.”
Not only is he doing it, he’s keeping the Bears’ playoff hopes alive.
Adam Hoge covers the Bears for CBSChicago.com and is a frequent contributor to 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter at @AdamHoge.