Over two starts and four total appearances, Chicago Bears quarterback Josh McCown has delivered a convincing case to head coach Marc Trestman on his qualifications as the continued starter over Jay Cutler.
Counting Sunday's overtime win over the Baltimore Ravens, McCown has now thrown for 754 yards, five touchdowns and zero interceptions. He's completed over 60 percent of his 101 attempts. And maybe most importantly, the Bears are a perfect 2-0 in his starts, including a road win over the Green Bay Packers and a gritty victory over the defending Super Bowl champions in inclement weather Sunday.
Facing sheets of rain and a blustery wind, the 34-year-old quarterback threw for 216 yards and a score, and his 14-yard completion to Alshon Jeffery and 43-yard strike to Martellus Bennett set up Robbie Gould's 38-yard game-winner in the extra period.
Eventually, Cutler will recover from the high ankle sprain that kept him out of Sunday's contest. If he's available to play this coming week, Trestman will have to decide whether to take a red-hot McCown out of the lineup or keep a healthy Cutler on the bench.
Maybe it will be an easy choice, and Cutler will immediately re-assume the starting role. But McCown has done just about everything needed to keep the job in the short term. His last four appearances are about as good as it gets for backup quarterbacks.
Despite coming off the bench cold in Washington, McCown threw for 204 yards and ran for another 33 in a 45-41 loss. The Bears scored 31 points with McCown at the controls, and only a late defensive collapse prevented the career backup from scoring a come-from-behind win.
A week later, McCown made his first start since 2011 against the surging Packers at Lambeau Field. He was nearly perfect in the national spotlight of Monday Night Football, throwing for 272 yards and two scores. Aaron Rodgers played only one series for Green Bay, but McCown still put up 27 points on the road.
Even when Cutler returned to start against the Detroit Lions, McCown nearly saved the day when he relieved a hurting Cutler on the final series. Chicago scored a touchdown on McCown's 11-yard strike to Brandon Marshall but came up short on the ensuing two-point attempt that would have tied the game.
*Games started by McCown
McCown wasn't as razor sharp Sunday—and the Bears struggled to move the football at times—but he still made big plays in the biggest moments.
Down four points in the fourth quarter, McCown dumped off to Matt Forte for a 13-yard score—completing a drive in which the Bears quarterback accounted for 68 of the 75 yards.
In overtime, the Bears defense gave McCown a chance to score to win the game, and he delivered. On third down, he found Jeffery for 14 yards to move the sticks. One play later, McCown delivered a strike to Bennett down the seam after play action froze the Ravens defense.
Three plays later, Gould was splitting the uprights from 38 yards out, and the Bears were back in a win-loss tie with the Detroit Lions atop the NFC North.
Remember, just a month ago, the Bears were 4-3 and losers of three straight games. Cutler was looking at an extensive recovery period from a groin injury, and most were getting ready to write off the Bears in 2013.
Enter McCown, a journeyman quarterback who has delivered in each of his four games since, and the Bears are still very much alive at 6-4. Chicago has McCown to thank.
For the most part, coaches are usually against the idea of players losing starting jobs due to injury. Those players were selected as starters for a reason, and dipping out of a contest or two is rarely grounds for losing said position.
More than likely, Trestman will go back to Cutler once his ankle sprain heals. He's committed this season to the 30-year-old gunslinger, and the Bears are 4-2 in games he's started and finished in 2013.
If Jay Cutler is healthy, who should be the Bears starting QB?
But maybe, just maybe, McCown's unexpected brilliance over the last month has given Trestman reason to make sure Cutler is 100 percent before he plays again.
The Bears appear to be no worse for wear with McCown under center. In fact, Chicago might be a more efficient, steady offense without the big-armed but occasionally erratic Cutler.
McCown has essentially played three full games. If his numbers during that stretch were extrapolated over a 16-game season, McCown would throw for over 4,000 yards and 27 touchdowns. And considering Chicago is a perfect 5-0 this season when winning the turnover margin, McCown's zero giveaways are an important statistic.
In the next two weeks, the Bears will travel to St. Louis and Minnesota for important road tests. Neither is an obvious win, with the Rams playing better recently and the Vikings a division opponent. In most situations, you'd want your starting quarterback back for those games.
In Chicago, it's not that clear cut.
The Bears have not only survived but actually thrived on offense with McCown starting at quarterback. As improved as Cutler may be under Trestman, he does not have a four-game stretch in which he's played as well as McCown has recently.
Trestman will likely go back to Cutler once his sprained ankle is cleared, but McCown has provided more than enough evidence for staying in the starting lineup. He's earned his chance to continue leading the 6-4 Bears.