Josh McCown feels like Mr. Right for Bears
BY RICK TELANDER Sports Columnist November 17, 2013 10:05PM
Updated: November 18, 2013 10:28AM
Hey, Bears fans, how lucky are you to have Josh McCown?
I know how excited general manager Phil Emery is about having the 34-year-old career backup quarterback in the fold. There in the Soldier Field locker room after the Bears’ dramatic 23-20 overtime win over the Baltimore Ravens, an ecstatic Emery hugged McCown long enough that you wanted to suggest they get a room.
How much better is this than handing the baton to, say, Jason Campbell or Caleb Hanie or Todd Collins?
Indeed, the love affair this soft-spoken and courteous but enthusiastic quarterback has started with Chicago football fans is something of a once-in-a-lifetime bromance.
While Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, the highest-paid player in the NFL, was lurching to a 162-yard, two-interception, 53.4-passer-rating day, the lowly paid McCown finished with 216 yards passing, a touchdown, no interceptions and a 92.9 rating. On a day with weather conditions that make ‘‘miserable’’ sound pleasant.
‘‘Coach [Marc Trestman] told me, ‘Don’t press. Relax,’ ’’ McCown said, explaining that with rain spraying like sea foam and the wind going in every direction, including straight up and down, that trying to bore holes through it would only lead to knuckleballs and fluttering ducks.
Again, McCown stated humbly that he wasn’t gifted with a slingshot arm like the injured Jay Cutler, whom he is replacing, or the Super Bowl MVP Flacco. Those guys could put muffins through oak doors. But then, they know that. And knowing your arm is a powerful weapon can turn against you, like a backward shotgun.
Flacco tried several ill-conceived, defiant passes, a couple of which went incomplete, one of which was returned by Bears defensive end David Bass for a 24-yard touchdown and another of which Bears linebacker Jon Bostic intercepted deep down the middle.
McCown? His pop gun was safe, secure and reasonable.
Maybe he didn’t look like much in the first half, when the Bears were falling behind 10-0 and then 17-13 at the break.
But with the slop and muck and 113-minute rain delay — uh, you have tarps, a grounds crew; can you use them? — simply staying focused was key. And McCown stayed focused. In the locker room during the break, Trestman had him walk through plays with the receivers and backs. And that helped a bunch, McCown said.
‘‘I closed my eyes and just tried to think about the game, visualize the game,’’ he said. ‘‘The hiccups we had in the first were just stupid.’’
So here’s where the love affair blooms, folks.
This fill-in dude is now 2-0 as a starter, and this win puts the Bears in a first-place tie in the division with the Lions at 6-4. But it’s the crunch-time success that McCown has shown that endears him to us.
He ran a smooth end-of-the game offense last week against the Lions, filling in for Cutler after he went out with an ankle injury in the fourth quarter. And Sunday, in the mess, he outplayed $30 million man Flacco at the end.
He threw a 14-yard TD pass to running back Matt Forte to briefly put the Bears ahead 20-17. And then he hit consecutive passes in overtime to Alshon Jeffery and Martellus Bennett, for a combined 57 yards, to set up the game-winning field goal by Robbie Gould.
In the first half, McCown completed 10 of 20 passes for 84 yards, no TDs and a low-rent 61.3 rating. In the second half, he completed 9 of 11 for 132 yards, a TD and a crazy-good 147.0 rating.
The guy has not thrown an interception this year in 101 passes.
‘‘The No. 1 thing you ask the quarterback,’’ Trestman said, ‘‘he’s gotta be in complete control of the football.’’
That is, don’t turn it over. Not in a hurricane like this, for sure. Don’t try to do what you can’t do.
McCown may be humble and polite — indeed, he walked into the interview room and asked quietly, ‘‘Is everybody here? Are we waiting for anyone?’’ — but he’s a dagger on the field. Not a big, Jim Bowie-style throwing blade, maybe. But a Swiss Army knife, with tools for just about anything.
How is it that a guy making less than $900,000 a year can outplay a big shot like Flacco? You ask Trestman this and he drops it like a hot coal.
‘‘I don’t think that’s a question that’s up to me to answer,’’ he says.
So let’s take a stab.
McCown is steady. He’s alert. He’s smart and coachable. He stays, as they say, within himself. Could he beat Flacco in many skill drills? No. Would he beat him game after game? No.
But each NFL game is a microcosm, a tiny world unto itself, with its own little rules.
‘‘I feel like a backup,’’ said McCown, almost blushing. ‘‘The starter’s not healthy.’’
Hard to tell.