The Chicago Bears picked up a big win on Monday Night Football this week, defeating the Dallas Cowboys 45-28. The win moves the Bears to 7-6 and into a tie with the Detroit Lions for first place in the NFC North. Perhaps the biggest story of the game was the continued strong play of backup quarterback Josh McCown, who completed 27/36 passes for 348 yards and 4 TDs, adding 17 yards and another touchdown on the ground.
McCown has filled in for Jay Cutler in seven games this season, completing 66.8% of his passes for 1,809 yards, 13 TDs and 1 INT. McCown has only led the Bears to a 3-4 record in those games, but it is fair to say those losses had much more to do with other factors than McCown. Cutler could be able to return from his high ankle sprain as early as next week, leaving the Bears with tough decision at quarterback.
Cutler has completed 63.0% of his passes for 1,908 yards, 13 TDs and 8 INTs this season, and the Bears have gone 4-4 in games in which Cutler has appeared in. Those numbers are not a particularly strong indication that the Bears should definitely go back to Cutler once he returns, as they have been more successful in the passing game with McCown at quarterback.
The Bears have played against very few high level pass defenses this season, so it’s not fair to say that McCown has been the beneficiary of an easy schedule. Instead, it appears that McCown has fantastic chemistry with Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, and he is a very good fit in Marc Trestman’s offense. McCown is playing at a much higher level than anyone could have anticipated, and pulling such a hot hand from the starting lineup is a hard thing to do.
The Bears will probably go back to Cutler when he is healthy, which I think is the right thing to do. After all, he is the franchise quarterback, and he has a much longer track record of NFL success than McCown does. However, McCown’s performance will certainly make the Bears think very carefully about inserting Cutler into the lineup, and at the very least it allows them to patient with his recovery. I would not be surprised if the Bears stuck with McCown for the rest of the season, and such a move would make some sense. However, the Bears are more likely to stick with their original plan, and that means that Cutler is still the favorite to be the starting quarterback when he is healthy.