TELANDER: McCown holding up his end
BY RICK TELANDER email@example.com | @ricktelander November 24, 2013 8:11PM
Updated: November 24, 2013 9:19PM
ST. LOUIS — Who would’ve guessed that losing starting quarterback Jay Cutler to injury wouldn’t be that big a deal?
You look down the Bears’ bench and see journeyman Josh McCown, 34, strapping on the melon bucket, and you cringe in fear.
But guess what?
McCown, who has started three games and played in two others, is the least of the Bears’ worries these days.
Indeed, the humble vet with the huge cross tattooed on his right upper arm and shoulder won the first two games he started. And he played well enough Sunday in the Edward Jones Dome to have beaten the Rams, too.
Stats don’t mean everything, but they mean something, and McCown’s were excellent.
He completed 36 of 47 passes for 352 yards, two touchdowns and one interception, his first of the year, in the Bears’ 42-21 loss. He spread the ball to seven receivers and had a short TD pass to tight end Martellus Bennett nullified when tackle Jermon Bushrod was flagged for holding.
His passer rating of 102.4 was very good, and it would’ve been an outstanding 113.0 if he hadn’t tossed the ball that free safety Rodney McLeod wrestled away from wide receiver Alshon Jeffery on the Bears’ last offensive play.
When your team is down by 21 with 90 seconds to play, you can be excused for making a mistake of urgency like that.
‘‘I can give you a better evaluation [Monday after film], but I thought McCown played tough, hung in there,’’ coach Marc Trestman said. ‘‘He tried to force it [the pickoff] in there.”
Well, yes, he did. But that was his first interception in 148 passes this season, and he has completed 65.5 percent of his throws and has a cumulative 100.8 rating.
The numbers are all good.
But what can a career backup do when he watches scores called back and gets blasted several times by the Rams’ dynamic pass rush? The Bears’ defense suddenly seems to be as passive and confused as an old lady who has been Tasered.
Give up 258 yards rushing? Yow.
‘‘It was a track meet out there today,’’ said Trestman, without adding that the Bears were the guys holding the finish string and clearing synthetic dirt from their faces.
And then there were the penalties — more flags than a U.N. display, and most on the offense.
The mayhem featured guard Kyle Long, who went so bat-bleep crazy after a play that his older brother, Chris, the Rams’ heavily tattooed defensive end, had to rush in off the sideline to yank him out of trouble. (Oh, and if you missed dad Howie Long, the Hall of Famer and football TV host, talking severely with Kyle in the stadium tunnel after the game, you missed a wonderful lesson in family therapy.)
But, seriously, what is a quarterback to do in such circumstances?
McCown, who ran a 4.5-plus in the 40 and had a 38½-inch vertical at the NFL combine many years ago, is a surprisingly agile and elusive quarterback. He can extend plays by scrambling a bit and checking down to find secondary receivers.
But it doesn’t help much when you extend a play only to get steamrolled by 6-5, 326-pound defensive tackle Michael Brockers. Brockers got a roughing-the-passer call on the play, but a number of us watching thought we might have witnessed the end of the McCown Era as it relates to being intact and unhospitalized.
McCown’s pale body in the locker room looked like it had been massaged with roof shingles. He also had scrapes on his neck, cheek and nose tip.
‘‘What stands out is their speed,’’ he said of the Rams’ D-line. ‘‘They’re just so fast. The sky is the limit for those guys.’’
You just hoped that limit didn’t include a funeral for the fill-in QB.
But nothing really offends McCown, not even his own offensive-line play. He called it a ‘‘privilege’’ to work with those big dudes in this offense. And he feels comfortable leading them into play. But he is not your Bears starter, folks.
‘‘To be clear, I’m the backup,’’ he declared once again. ‘‘And I’m just playing right now.’’
All he needs is for his starting teammates to play along with him.