The Chicago Bears expected to find themselves in the thick of the NFC North race with two games left in the season, and sure enough, here we are.
What no one could have foreseen was that the Bears would have found themselves in the middle of a quarterback controversy as well. To their credit, head coach Marc Trestman and the Bears have handled both situations about as well as could be expected.
Trestman raised some eyebrows last week leading up to the game in Cleveland when he didn't hesitate to name Jay Cutler the starting quarterback after the eighth-year pro missed four games with an injured ankle.
The reason for those hiked brows was simple: Josh McCown played like a madman in Cutler's absence.
|Jay Cutler vs. Josh McCown 2013|
|Per Pro Football Reference and ESPN|
Yet, despite that success, Trestman didn't hesitate to go back to Cutler. Mainly because he really didn't have much choice.
Here are a couple of unfortunate truths about Josh McCown and the 2013 Chicago Bears.
The first is this. For as well as McCown has played, and for every highlight-reel catch that wide receiver Alshon Jeffery has made, the fact remains that the 8-6 Bears aren't going to win the Super Bowl this year.
The defense, ravaged by injuries, is horrible. The Bears rank 27th in the NFL in total defense and dead last against the run.
A trip to the playoffs would be a nice building block for next year, but that's all it is.
Sticking with McCown would have meant adding that block to a house that would all but certainly be Cutler-less.
Simply put, if you sit Jay Cutler down the stretch, you're essentially closing the door on his tenure with the Bears.
With his contract expiring at the end of the season, Cutler entered the 2013 season effectively playing for his supper in Chicago. He may not have played as well as McCown, but the 30-year-old has done enough to get an extension.
However, sit Cutler and it's bye-bye at the end of the year. Given the number of teams in need of a quarterback, there will be no shortage of suitors for Cutler, who likely wouldn't take a benching well.
McCown, on the other hand, is a nice story, but he's also a 34-year-old career backup playing out of his mind. Even if McCown could somehow keep this up all season long, the short-term reward just isn't worth the long-term cost.
Luckily, the decision to start Cutler paid off, in Week 15 at least. Although he threw two early interceptions, Cutler bounced back with three touchdown passes, leading the Bears to a 38-31 win.
That win gave the Bears control of their playoff destiny, and Cutler acknowledged that the pressure's now on him to perform.
Time will tell if Cutler does, but while the jury may be out on the short-term wisdom of Trestman's decision, there's little question that Trestman made the call that gives the Bears the best chance to win in the long term.