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Send in McCown: Even QB and Lovie aren’t too optimistic

Chicago Bears reserve quarterback Josh McCown warms up sidelines as he prepares go ingame late fourth quarter replace Caleb Hanie.

Chicago Bears reserve quarterback Josh McCown warms up on the sidelines as he prepares to go into the game late in the fourth quarter and replace Caleb Hanie. The Bears lost 38-14 to the Seattle Seahawks on December 18, 2011 at Soldier Field. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Updated: January 23, 2012 11:04AM

When Caleb Hanie replaced Jay Cutler as the Bears’ starting quarterback four weeks ago, he was cracking jokes about Cutler during a spirited news conference and was genuinely excited about the opportunity to become the next Tom Brady.

But Josh McCown’s mood was a little more subdued Wednesday when he addressed the media at Halas Hall: He’ll do the best he can do under the circumstances.

‘’It’s not ideal for anybody to come in this late in any offense,’’ he said. ‘‘But at the same time, as a competitor, you understand where the other guys are at. You’ve got to get yourself up to speed and ready to play. Everybody expects you just to go play and play well. That’s the expectation for myself also.’’

After the disastrous experience with Hanie — who was 0-4 with a 41.8 passer rating in four starts after Cutler suffered a broken right thumb — the Bears never officially announced that McCown would replace Hanie as the starter for Sunday night’s game against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. The move became official when McCown stepped to the lectern in the media room for the weekly news conference with the starting quarterback.

‘‘We just felt like we needed a boost,’’ coach Lovie Smith said after practice. ‘‘Caleb had played four games, and I felt like that was enough to prove who you are and if you can help our team win.’’

While he’s hoping for the best, not even Smith would offer a ringing endorsement of McCown, who’s 12-19 as a starter in the NFL and 1-11 on the road, has a 70.9 career passer rating, has not started an NFL game since 2007 and was coaching high school football when he got the call from the Bears four weeks ago. Though his cup is always half-full, even Smith has his limit.

‘‘I haven’t seen a lot from Josh,’’ Smith said. ‘‘And sometimes if you don’t like what you have, you have to look at your other options. We just have to have faith that we can play better — we can do some things to help him out a little bit more, people around him can play a little bit better.’’

The Bears signed McCown after Cutler’s injury because of his previous experience in Mike Martz’s offense. McCown was a backup with the Detroit Lions when Martz was the offensive coordinator for Rod Marinelli in 2006. His only contribution, though, was when he caught two passes for 15 yards as a wide receiver against the New England Patriots.

‘‘He’s got some playing experience, and he’s won some big games,’’ Martz said. ‘‘Unfortunately, he’s gotten injured when things have gotten going. So certainly he has the ability.’’

Martz is inflating McCown’s résumé a little. He only has beaten three winning teams. But his biggest victories have hit close to home.

With the Arizona Cardinals in 2003, he knocked Mike Tice’s Minnesota Vikings out of the playoffs with a 28-yard touchdown pass on fourth-and-25 as time expired in Week 17. And McCown cost Martz’s St. Louis Rams a division title in 2004 when he threw two touchdown passes and rushed for two touchdowns in a 31-7 Cardinals victory.

Until he replaced Hanie in a mop-up role against the Seattle Seahawks last week, McCown had not thrown a pass in an NFL game since the opening week of the 2009 season with the Carolina Panthers when he was 1-for-6 for two yards in a 38-10 loss.

But Martz is encouraged by what he has seen from McCown with the Bears.

‘‘He’s better,’’ he said. ‘‘He’s a better passer right now than when I had him. Mechanically, he’s a lot more consistent. He’s always been able to do things with his legs, too. He’s a terrific athlete. We’ll put him in there, and I think he can give us a shot in the arm, and we’ll see what happens.’’

With their playoff hopes still alive, albeit barely, the Bears did not consider starting rookie Nathan Enderle.

‘‘I think he’s got a terrific future,’’ Martz said. ‘‘The problem with Nate is Caleb didn’t have preseason [in 2010] — he got injured. So we spent all the time with Caleb in the preseason, [and] Nate didn’t get a whole lot of work. It’s just too much of an unknown right now. We’re trying to win. He’ll have his time, I’m sure. But right now this is the best opportunity for us to win.’’

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