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Josh McCown shows more promise than Caleb Hanie as backup

Making his first start for Bears confident relaxed Josh McCown looks downfield pass first half Bears’ loss Packers. | Jeffrey

Making his first start for the Bears, a confident and relaxed Josh McCown looks downfield to pass in the first half of the Bears’ loss to the Packers. | Jeffrey Phelps~AP

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Updated: January 27, 2012 8:10AM



GREEN BAY, Wis. — Josh McCown didn’t lose faith, not in his God nor in himself.

The veteran quarterback was out of the NFL the entire 2010 season, instead playing for the Hartford Colonials of the UFL before latching on with the San Francisco 49ers during this preseason.

After what he considered a more than solid performance, McCown was disappointed when the 49ers released him.

“I felt like I played well,” McCown told me last month.

He waited and waited for an opportunity. But McCown didn’t get his chance until Sunday, with the Bears on the brink of elimination.

He didn’t beat the Super Bowl-champion Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. But his decisiveness, his command of the offense and his ability to complete routine throws were a stark contrast to the overall play of Caleb Hanie, who tossed three touchdowns against nine interceptions during an 0-4 stretch as the Bears’ starter.

More than just the numbers, Hanie often looked rattled and confused.

McCown appeared to be having a blast, crossing a line in the fourth quarter, when he slam-dunked the football over the cross bar when he converted a two-point conversion on a quarterback draw.

McCown, 32, showed his athleticism, spinning away from tackles, juking defenders — including All-Pro linebacker Clay Matthews — and scrambling eight times for 38 yards. But he distinguished himself from Hanie with his arm.

As receiver Earl Bennett noted Friday, McCown does “throw a good ball,” and he completed 19 of 28 for 242 yards. While he threw two interceptions, neither was returned for a touchdown and they weren’t questionable decisions.

The first was a hat tip to Matthews, who faked a pass rush then dropped into coverage, easily intercepting a short pass intended for fullback Tyler Clutts. Then in the third quarter, McCown threaded a 20-plus-yard pass over a cornerback to Bennett. But Bennett tipped the ball and safety Charlie Peprah intercepted it.

It wasn’t clear if Bennett lost the ball in the lights or behind the defender. But the ball was well-placed and took an unfortunate bounce.

McCown, though, showcased his athleticism on his touchdown pass. He sidestepped Matthews, creating some space, then he tossed an easy pass to tight end Kellen Davis for a one-yard touchdown.

“Josh did a heck of a job running our offense,” coach Lovie Smith said. “Offensively, we did enough to keep us in the game.

“He felt confident coming into the game, but we needed to see it. We saw it, and he did a good job.”

McCown signed a one-year deal. But the Bears should seriously consider bringing him back next season. We saw what can happen if starter Jay Cutler gets hurt. And Nathan Enderle, the team’s fifth-round pick, would presumably return in 2012.

But the Bears would still need some insurance to at least push Enderle, and McCown appears to have earned that opportunity.

With that said, since there’s no chance to play in the postseason, the Bears should at least play Enderle for a half in the season finale against the Minnesota Vikings next Sunday.

Unless he’s completely ill-equipped to play, Enderle needs to be evaluated, so the Bears don’t keep him hanging around, as they did Hanie, without knowing what they have.

Hanie, who will be a free agent, was on the Bears’ roster for four seasons. When the team desperately needed him, Hanie struggled and didn’t play to a suitable level.

“You’ll always wonder,” Smith said of going to McCown earlier. “But we had to give him time to get comfortable.”



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