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TELANDER: Cutler’s injury gives McCown chance to sparkle again

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Updated: December 16, 2013 6:41AM



Josh McCown is the man, folks.

As Jay Cutler hobbled off the turf inside the Walter Payton Dome on Thursday, sporting a snappy orange jersey, orange workout shorts and a charcoal-gray cast on his left ankle and calf, you knew what was up.

The 34-year-old McCown, who has journeyed from the Cardinals to the Lions to the Raiders to the Dolphins to the Panthers to the United Football League’s Hartford Colonials to the 49ers and thence to the Bears, is the offensive leader of this team.

‘‘I couldn’t ask for anything more,’’ the lightly bearded McCown said later in the Halas Hall press room.

He was speaking about the opportunity now presented to him, his stepping into the limelight because of a starting quarterback who is ‘‘day-to-day’’ or ‘‘week-to-week.’’ Or maybe even bye-bye forever.

Yes, Cutler’s future with the Bears is a tenuous one. As his injuries mount, his odds of signing a long-term contract with the Bears after this season lessen.

And that would leave a void that is kind of scary to ponder.

But cheerful, humble, surprisingly athletic McCown is ready to step in for now. And the man already has been successful in three fill-ins for the injured Cutler.

Against the Redskins on
Oct. 20, he completed 70 percent of his passes and finished with a
119.6 passer rating. He started his
first game in two years Nov. 4 against the Packers and won, throwing for 272 yards and two touchdowns in that game. (Never mind that Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers got knocked out early. That’s your NFL for you.) Then Sunday against the Lions he came in, as Cutler staggered off with a wounded leg, and drove the Bears to a last-minute touchdown that nearly tied the score. His rating in that game was a ridiculous 123.4.

Indeed, there is a glow these days around nice guy McCown. He just seems, hmmm, successful.

Of course, there’s a reason he’s a backup and not a starter. And the fear is there that once he is given the keys to the auto, with only really new backup Jordan Palmer behind him, he’ll race out of the garage and promptly crash into the tree next door.

‘‘I don’t care about statistics,’’ McCown said, speaking about the love and protection he gets from the Bears’ offensive line.

More specifically, he was talking about trying to get back to the line of scrimmage on a scramble against the Packers, so a sack wouldn’t be called.

‘‘I didn’t want the [O-line] to have a sack on their record because I know how hard they work,’’ he said.

So sweet. So considerate. And that is one of the reasons McCown is in the league, ready to take action. He is friendly — not only with Cutler, but with coaches and teammates in general.

‘‘It’s hard to find 32 starting quarterbacks in the NFL that are productive on a regular basis,’’ offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer said. ‘‘So in order to get to 64 — everybody having a good backup — that’s extremely tough. Unless you’re fortunate, like we are.’’

There you go. Who needs Cutler?

‘‘I feel extremely comfortable with the game plan,’’ said Palmer, the backup’s backup. ‘‘I feel really confident, really comfortable this week.’’

Wow.

But it can’t be this easy, can it? Probably not. Of course, it can’t.

‘‘He’s the kind of quarterback you want,’’ coach Marc Trestman said of McCown. ‘‘The work ethic he has, he loves football, is highly intelligent, learns quickly. . . . He knows how to work the locker room, knows how to work the huddle.’’

His counterpart on the Ravens is a little different in his pedigree — and his financial résumé. Joe Flacco is the reigning Super Bowl MVP, the man who is the highest-paid player in the NFL after leveraging his 2012 season into pure gold. Money isn’t everything, but Flacco’s pot is nuts: $30 million this year (including a $29 million signing bonus) and a total package worth $120.6 million over six years. His 2013 salary alone is more than McCown and Palmer will make in their football careers.

So what if McCown, who is earning $865,000 this year, whips up on the man who makes twice that much every game? It would be pretty cool, no?

McCown is proud of the way backups Nick Foles of the Eagles and Kellen Clemens of the Rams have stepped in and excelled. There’s a mantra for players in the NFL, where injuries are guaranteed.

‘‘Next man up,’’ McCown said.

Here he is.



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