There is a golden rule all backup quarterbacks in the NFL are supposed to follow: don’t screw up.
In the case of Chicago Bears QB Josh McCown however, the mantra lately has seemed to be “don’t screw up what’s been working for the offense,” and judging by his performance against the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday afternoon, the offense that he is guiding shows no signs of slowing down.
His mobility has certainly helped things, as it did on a couple of plays against an aggressive Ravens’ blitzing scheme. He was able to step up in the pocket to make a key throw to Martellus Bennett over the middle of the field for a first down in the second quarter of the game. Later on that same drive, McCown also showed off his ability to not only time throws properly but to place them as well when he found Brandon Marshall along the sidelines for a first down on a play that looked eerily similar to the one that Jay Cutler did in the end zone against the Detroit Lions in Week 2. It was a perfect back shoulder throw, and one that took a lot of arm strength to complete.
McCown wasn’t done yet though. Later in the game, McCown found Marshall again along the sidelines for a first down, and also hit Alshon Jeffery on a quick slant for another first down outside the numbers. His screen pass to Matt Forte was well-timed and executed by all parties involved (although Kyle Long’s block to set everything up was arguably the biggest contribution), and it gave the Bears the lead in the fourth quarter.
Even though the game ended up going to overtime, McCown still had more left in the tank. The Ravens left Jeffery wide open over the middle of the field for an easy first down on a key 3rd-and-9 play, and then on the very next play, McCown made what was certainly the play of the day for either team. On an incredibly gutsy call by Marc Trestman and company, McCown stepped up in the pocket and delivered a bomb to Bennett over the top of the Ravens’ defense, and thanks to the 43-yard completion, the Bears were able to grab the victory on a Robbie Gould field goal a couple of plays later.
To his credit, Cutler has been nothing but supportive of McCown both on the sidelines and in talking to the press. Here’s how Patrick Finley of the Chicago Sun-Times phrased Cutler’s emotions about the deep completion to Bennett:
“When Trestman called in the play that would become a 43-yard pass to Martellus Bennett in overtime on Sunday, Cutler caught backup Josh McCown’s eye and smiled at him. He knew McCown doubled his arm strength on a deep throw in the wind.
“”Relax, just call it,” Cutler recalled thinking. “This is gonna work.””
That kind of confidence is rare for NFL teams when it comes to their back-up quarterbacks, but it’s faith that’s generated by how hard McCown has worked to learn Trestman’s system, and that preparation keeps paying dividends whenever he is on the field. He may not be a threat to usurp the starter’s job from Cutler on a permanent basis, but for the time being, he is a much better option than anyone likely thought possible before the season started.