SAN FRANCISCO Call it Jason Campbells unfinished business, time to show that living well is the best revenge.
And right now, the Bears are in real need of some living well. The Green Bay Packers won their fifth straight game on Sunday, winning at Detroit, and will move past the Bears in the NFC North, by virtue of beating the Bears in Green Bay, if the Bears fall to San Francisco. The Minnesota Vikings went to 6-4 by beating Detroit last Sunday and will come to Chicago next Sunday after a week off also with a chance to move past the Bears with a victory.
Not the time that the Bears would have chosen to be without their starting quarterback.
But Campbell is not just any backup.
Campbell is 10-4 over his last 14 starts. He had the Oakland Raiders at 4-2 and on course for the playoffs when he broke his collarbone.
He cant replay the 2011 season even if he wanted to. What he can do, however, is finish the year that ended so abruptly and painfully, and disappointingly when the Raiders gave up on him in favor of mortgaging their future in a deal for Carson Palmer.
Well, the Raiders are 3-6 and behind seven other teams for even the second wild-card spot in the AFC playoffs. And Campbell is on Monday Night Football, starting for the No. 2 overall seed in the NFC going into the weekends games.
Its my first time starting since Oct. 16 last year, when I broke my collarbone. And itll be going back to the Bay Area, Campbell said. It feels good to have an opportunity to get back in there and play.
But you never want to have an opportunity to play because someone is injured, but we understand that we play and those things occur sometimes.
Its the third straight year that this has occurred for the Bears, losing Jay Cutler for at least a game to an injury. That raises questions for the organization long-term with Cutler heading into a contract year in 2013 and GM Phil Emery satisfied that Cutler is a franchise quarterback when he is healthy.
Fittingly perhaps, the San Francisco game could be a one-game (if Cutler returns from his concussion next Sunday) audition for Campbell. He signed a one-year deal with the Bears for 3.5 million when interest in him was tepid during free agency because of the collarbone injury.
I think everything happens for a reason, Campbell said. I think when the time is right, that will take care of itself in the right place and time.
The bigger concern
But those are issues that are a long way from the Bears thinking going into a game that, if they lose, would drop them from second only to the Atlanta Falcons in the interim NFC playoff seedings to trailing the Packers in the division.
The bigger issue remains an offense that have yet to reach its 2011 levels despite additions like Brandon Marshall, Michael Bush and Gabe Carimi, whose rookie season ended after six quarters, plus the elevation of Mike Tice to offensive coordinator.
We have to maintain good energy, Mike Tice said. We have to maintain a positive approach with the fact that were working at it, were churning at it, were putting in the time at it and at some point were encouraged that it should it better break in our way and start playing with some rhythm.
The Campbell Factor
An intriguing thread running through the San Francisco game is whether the offense might actually run better under Campbell than it has been with Cutler.
For one big thing, Campbell directs an offense that has rookie Alshon Jeffery back from a broken hand. Jeffery is a big target who had become a starter and the Bears No. 2 receiver before his injury.
Campbell is a timing-based quarterback vs. Cutlers style of waiting a shade longer in a play and then having the arm power to still get the football where it needs to be. Campbell is possibly less apt to force a bad situation.
As a quarterback, you got to not try to dictate the game but do everything you possibly can to get your own rhythm, by not forcing things and everything like that, Campbell said.
But, at the same time, just have fun. You got to let it hang out in a game like this.