By Dan Bernstein-
CBSChicago.com Senior Columnist
(CBS) We can only imagine how overheated and outsized all these conversations could become if the Bears were actually good.
They aren’t, but it doesn’t matter.
An observer from afar would think this team is contending for a championship, noting the reaction to, say, Marc Trestman’s curious decision to attempt a field goal sooner and from farther than need be. Lost in the three-day aftermath, somehow, was the fact that the Bears had dropped consecutive games to teams now a combined 8-17-1, while surrendering a kazillion yards to offenses commanded by Kellen Clemens and Matt Cassel.
So we recognize that for maybe a split second, take a deep breath, and cannonball into the roiled seas of a quarterback “controversy” that’s mostly made up. Here it goes again, featuring characters that lend themselves to such drama. Ignoring anything said plainly by any of the players or coaches involved, the camps congeal anew – one aware that Jay Cutler remains the starter when healthy, the other in full populist fervor.
Cutler does not inspire impassioned support, however, even from those willing to acknowledge his talent and accept the Bears’ perfectly rational reasoning. He’s still aloof and disengaged, still a walking, sighing eye-roll. He has never attempted to accrue political capital, has never pandered or curried favor inside or outside Halas Hall. Add to this the usual familiarity that breeds contempt among fans, with enough liking his game, but few liking whoever they think he is.
Josh McCown, now, is the ideal vessel for those who never quite warmed to Cutler, or who generally gravitate to novelty. His performance has been revelatory not only of his own abilities and the baseline quality of the Trestman offense, but of fan behavior, with his pleasant, blank-slate personality allowing for easy contrast with Cutler’s default-set frown. On him is projected the hope of Something Else.
Yet there are some contradictions – ironies, perhaps – in McCown’s success. The shiny new thing is old, first of all. He’s not some precocious recent draft pick pressed into service, getting by on youthful pluck as scouts exchange self-congratulatory nods in the press box. He’s 34, and on his seventh team if we don’t include the UFL’s Hartford Colonials. He was out of the game entirely, coaching high school ball when the Bears called.
What’s more, his continued effectiveness does raise legitimate questions about how to value the position relative to salary-cap concerns, but not really about him. The issue that matters is not Cutler or McCown, it’s Cutler at a certain cost versus a theoretical QB of an expected value at whatever that would cost, and how the rest of the roster could then be solidified. Essentially, McCown has played well enough to create an argument in which he’s not actually involved.
In the short term, any disagreement is all a bit silly. The Bears are about a .500 team, and not in a position to win the Super Bowl, regardless, since they cannot stop anybody. Both quarterbacks are good, which is fine enough, but ultimately unimportant. Nothing mumbled by Brian Urlacher or conceived somewhere in the mind of Mike Florio changes that.
Lack of such context has not impeded our attention to this odd thing that they are, though. Note the boffo TV numbers Monday night that spurred NBC to grab Bears/Eagles in two weeks.
The Bears are a mere middling football team, making stories. The quarterbacks, the myriad injuries, the new coach, the weather, the field conditions, all as if somehow mattering this season.
It will be nice when it does.
Dan Bernstein joined the station as a reporter/anchor in 1995, and has been the co-host of Boers and Bernstein since 1999. Read more of Bernstein’s columns, or follow him on Twitter: @dan_bernstein.
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