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We’ll know if Josh McCown’s magic was real

12-4-2009 PhoRick Morrissey new Chicago Sun-Times Sports columnist.  Phoby Dom NajoliChicago Sun-Times

12-4-2009 Photo of Rick Morrissey, new Chicago Sun-Times Sports columnist. Photo by Dom Najolia, Chicago Sun-Times

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Updated: April 17, 2014 6:26AM



Many of us are sad to see Josh McCown leave town. By the time we were done singing his praises last season, the man could save a day, right a wrong, beat a clock and rescue a distressed damsel, all before a wholesome breakfast.

But c’mon.

Don’t you want to find out if 2013 was real? The 300-yard passing games? The poise? The victories? The complete career makeover?

I do. It will be one of the most intriguing stories going into the 2014 NFL season: Did a journeyman quarterback finally, miraculously discover himself and his skills at 34, or was it a head coach’s sharp mind that made the quarterback stand out?

Getting an answer could be at the expense of the Bears’ success next season, but what can I say? I’m selfish that way.

The story could end up being more interesting than whatever the Bears do, unless you think the signing of defensive lineman Lamarr Houston and his four-sacks-a-year average is going to put them over the edge and into the Super Bowl.

McCown signed a two-year, $10  million contract with the Bucs last week, reuniting him with coach Lovie Smith, who wouldn’t know offense if a forward pass hit him in the crotch. Bears coach Marc Trestman, Smith’s replacement, designed a high-powered offense that didn’t seem to care who the quarterback was.

So let’s see how McCown, a middling quarterback until Trestman came along, fares under Bucs offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford, the ex-Cal head coach, noted quarterback guru and, yes, former Canadian Football League assistant coach. Trestman came to Chicago from the Montreal Alouettes.

Maybe we’ll find out that McCown just likes all things Canada.

There’s no reason for a Bears fan to begrudge him his opportunity to be a full-time starter. He helped keep the Bears alive when Jay Cutler went down with various injuries last season. He earned every bit of what the Bucs will pay him.

What was McCown supposed to do? Stay in Chicago for significantly less money and the chance to be an emergency starter? He has said he prays for clarity when he has a difficult decision to make. God apparently said: ‘‘Two years, $10 million. Can I be any clearer?’’

His departure leaves the Bears in a potentially tough spot, but let’s face it, they were very fortunate to be in a good spot last season. No one could have seen McCown’s ascension coming. Pre-2013, his highest passer rating was 74.9. Last season, it was 109.0. He threw 13 touchdown passes and one interception in 2013. Before that, he had just one season in which he threw more touchdowns than interceptions — 2004, when he had 11 TDs and 10 INTs for the Arizona Cardinals.

I’m not trying to depress you with reminders of how good McCown was last season — you’re a Bears fan, you haven’t won a Super Bowl since 1985, you’re depressed anyway. I am suggesting there’s a good chance McCown’s stay in Tampa, where he’ll be the starter, could look a lot different than last season did in Chicago. No one can be that good after being so average for so long.

The Bears find themselves back where most teams are, praying their starter doesn’t get hurt. If the drop-off from the No.  1 quarterback to the No. 2 were a sport, it would be cliff diving.

The Bears do not yet have a clear backup, but whoever it is likely won’t have the kind of season McCown did in relief — unless, of course, it really is Trestman’s brain that was behind McCown’s success. If that’s the case, then perhaps it won’t matter who the backup is. Chad Hutchinson? Jonathan Quinn? OK, we said Trestman was smart. We didn’t say he was a miracle worker.

This is the football version of the nature-or-nurture debate. Is it the coach’s offense or the quarterback’s skills that lead to success? My guess is that McCown will be closer to the quarterback he used to be than the one he was last season for the Bears. Remember, he was out of the NFL and helping out as a high school assistant coach as recently as 2012. That wasn’t coincidence. His body of work didn’t have muscle tone until 2013.

McCown is a nice guy. I hope he does well, but most of all, I hope for a clear answer: Was it Trestman or the quarterback? I think I know.



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