MORRISSEY: Campbell isn’t Cutler’s equal, win or lose Monday
BY RICK MORRISSEY firstname.lastname@example.org November 18, 2012 7:14PM
Chicago Bears quarterback Jason Campbell (2) is seen on the field during warmups before an NFL football game against the St. Louis Rams in Chicago, Sunday, Sept. 23, 2012. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
Updated: December 20, 2012 6:26AM
Imagine for a moment that Jason
Campbell leads the Bears to a victory Monday night against the San Francisco 49ers. It won’t take much imagination, given that many of you true believers imagined the Bears going 16-0 before the season began, the way you have every year since you were swaddled in a blue-and-orange blanket in the neonatal unit.
But work with me here. Our imaginary scenario has Campbell leading an improbable victory and, more than that, playing well. He completes 19 of 25 passes for 220 yards and two touchdowns. No interceptions, no fumbles and body language that says, ‘‘I love life, my teammates, football, the officials and especially you, the viewing audience!’’
How soon before you people think he should be the Bears’ starting quarterback for the rest of the season? My guess is, by the third quarter of the game against the 49ers. Crazy talk? Not if you’ve paid attention to how NFL fans react to successful backups and how Bears fans tend to go all in at the first whiff of victory.
You could feel all of this coming on like a fever last week. At least one of the radio talk shows attempted to make the case that Campbell might be a better fit than Cutler for coach Lovie Smith’s philosophy, even when Cutler’s concussed head is defogged. The thinking is that Smith puts such a premium on no turnovers by his offense that the more buttoned-down Campbell might work better than the tie-dyed Cutler, who throws the ball with no fear and little discretion.
Sure, if you say so.
If the Bears upset the 49ers, I expect a crowd to meet Campbell at O’Hare and carry him off on its shoulders. I say this with history as my backup. Before a Monday night game in 1989 in Washington, John Elway got sick after eating chipped beef on toast at the White House. Gary Kubiak started in his place that day — Nov. 20 — and led the Denver Broncos to a 14-10 victory against the Redskins.
Kubiak was a fine backup, a guy who knew the offense inside and out but was limited physically. And by that I mean he couldn’t hold Elway’s mouth guard. But it wasn’t long — say, by time the gun went off signaling the end of the game — before fans began sending letters to the Broncos clamoring for Kubiak and agitating for the overthrow of Elway.
This was pre-email but post-Pony Express. Kubiak was more than sheepish about the attention. He, more than almost anyone, knew how gifted Elway was. He saw it every day in practice. Kubiak rolled his eyes and tried to smother the noise. But that didn’t stop fans from calling the talk shows and calling for his ascendancy.
That, friends, is what I anticipate should Campbell pull off the upset against the 49ers. Many of you will say that Campbell takes care of the ball better than Cutler and that, given how good the Bears’ defense is, a game manager is exactly what the team needs. Some of you are tired of Cutler’s inconsistency.
Allow me to head you off at the forward pass: Forget it. The chances of Campbell taking Cutler’s job are about the same as Michael Jordan swearing off all worldly possessions. The Bears are paying Cutler a lot of money. They have backed him through thick and thin. Campbell has started 70 games in a seven-year career. He has been above-average but not special.
That won’t stop the talk, of course. This is the NFL, where the second-string quarterback is a combination of hope, promise, dreams and yearnings. He is everything the frustrating starter isn’t.
Until he has to play regularly.
The best thing that happened to Kubiak was when Elway returned to the starting lineup the next week. The backup returned to the sidelines, where the Cult of Kubiak lived on. In nine seasons, he started a total of five games.
Elway is in the Hall of Fame; Kubiak is the head coach of the Houston Texans. All is right with the world.
Cutler is no Elway, as he has been reminded over and over again. Campbell is better than Kubiak ever was. But unless the last seven seasons have been a mirage, Campbell is no Cutler.
So control yourselves, people. Get a grip. And, should the Bears beat the 49ers, I’ll see you along the Jason Campbell parade route Tuesday.