GREEN BAY, Wis. – Maybe Jay Cutler knew something.
Less than an hour before kickoff Monday at Lambeau Field, where the Bears win games about once every housing crisis, a message popped up on computer screens near and far.
“Bears injured QB Jay Cutler plans to return this week and, barring no setback, start vs. Lions on Sunday, per team source,” ESPN’s Chris Mortensen wrote on his Twitter page.
But then the Bears’ offense played one of its smartest, most efficient games in recent memory in a 27-20 win against the Green Bay Packers, and veteran backup Josh McCown looked perfectly capable behind center. Suddenly, it hit me.
Maybe Cutler needs the Bears as much as the Bears need Cutler.
If you have cable TV and a couple of decent brain cells, you recognized the early-onset weirdness of Monday’s game. State Farm spokesman (and the NFL’s best quarterback) Aaron Rodgers was knocked out of the game after a sack by much-maligned defensive end Shea McClellin, of all people, during the opening drive.
Rodgers was replaced by Seneca Wallace, whose nickname might have been Rusty if it weren’t taken by an old racecar driver.
Also, Julius Peppers came out of retirement to deflect and intercept a pass.
Also, an old high school coach lined up at quarterback and ran the Bears’ offense with ease.
Go ahead and forget the Bears’ porous run defense and special-teams meltdowns, at least for the next 400 words or so. One of the most compelling storylines to emerge for the Bears in front of a hostile crowd and a national TV audience was the performance of McCown, and what it might mean for next week, and next season, and the seasons beyond.
Like many, I expected the “M” in the backup quarterback’s last name to stand for Mediocre.
But if this was a babysitter for the offense, I hope he charged way more than $10 an hour.
On his first pass, McCown stood in the pocket and fired a spiral to Brandon Marshall for 12 yards and a first down. McCown found Marshall again a few plays later for a pickup of 19, and he somehow escaped pressure in the pocket to heave a highlight-reel touchdown pass to Marshall to close out the drive and give the Bears an early lead.
McCown wasn’t finished.
The 34-year-old with two starts since 2008 spread the ball around the field as if he were wearing No. 12 for the other guys. By game’s end, he had connected with five receivers, including Marshall (seven receptions), Alshon Jeffery (5), Matt Forte (5), Martellus Bennett (4) and even Michael Bush (1), who tucked the ball against his pads and bulldozed A.J. Hawk with a hit so hard that it knocked off the linebacker’s helmet.
The only thing missing? Killer mistakes.
You know, the kind that we’ve come to expect from Cutler at Lambeau Field.
Remember last season, when Cutler threw four interceptions in a 23-10 loss to the Packers? Or 2010, when he completed only 21 of 39 passes with no touchdowns and a pair of picks? How about 2009, when he threw four more interceptions and posted a 43.2 passer rating in his nationally televised Bears debut?
Not only did McCown outplay the Cutler of Lambeau Visits Past, but he made a case for being the best quarterback to face the Packers on their home turf this season. The Packers’ defense contained Robert Griffin III, pounced on Matthew Stafford and graciously accepted a pile of gifts from Brandon Weeden, but they could not outfox the Bears’ old-timer.
Back to Cutler.
The point here is not to pile on the Bears’ franchise quarterback, whose résumé is filled with big plays and comeback wins and an ill-fated trip to the NFC championship game in 2010. But if Marc Trestman’s offense is equally (or more) effective with a smart (and cheap) veteran running the offense instead of a $100 million man, then why not explore the option?
Give McCown another start against the Lions next week to see what he can do.
Let Cutler rest.
Because, Lambeau visits aside, the Bears likely will need Cutler late in the season.
And Cutler most certainly will need the Bears.