Josh McCown isn’t the long-term solution at quarterback for the Bears, but with the possible future sidelined with an ankle injury, the veteran quarterback is flourishing in the present.
In his second start of the season in place of Jay Cutler, the journeyman signal-caller guided the Bears to a 23-20 overtime victory over the Baltimore Ravens. Sunday’s game didn't start out pretty for McCown, but what mattered is how he finished. That included another zero-turnover performance.
On the Bears’ first possession of the game, McCown fumbled a snap, was sacked and nearly threw an interception on a pass intended for a wide-open Alshon Jeffery. Chicago's second series didn’t fare any better before the game went into a one hour, 54-minute weather delay with Chicago already in a 10-0 hole.
[GIFS: Weather at Soldier Field]
After the lengthy wait, the sunlight beamed down on Soldier Field, and that's when McCown got in a groove.
Following a quick three-and-out by the Ravens, McCown lead the Bears on a 12-play, 88-yard scoring drive that resulted in a 20-yard Robbie Gould field goal. The veteran was sharp following the delay, spreading the ball around on that drive to Brandon Marshall, Martellus Bennett and Jeffery to put the Bears in the red zone.
“Josh is doing a great job out there for us but it’s not really surprising," veteran defensive end Julius Peppers said. "We expect that from him. He’s an older guy, he’s been around, he’s been a starter, but we’re all very confident about him stepping in and getting the job done. He’s proven that.”
The defense fed off the offense immediately following the Gould field goal. Following a short kickoff return by the Ravens, Joe Flacco's first pass was intercepted by undrafed rookie defensive end David Bass and returned for a 24-yard touchdown.
Facing a seven-point deficit just before the half, the defense was able to put the ball back into McCown's hands after a leaping interception by rookie Jon Bostic. On three straight plays, McCown used his mobility to evade rushers and find the open man to keep the chains moving. His escape-ability resulted in Chicago cutting Baltimore's deficit to four, 17-13, with another Gould field goal before the half.
"He’s been doing it since he’s been playing. We’ve seen it on film and knew what he could do and he did exactly what he’s been doing," Ravens linebacker Daryl Smith told CSNChicago.com. "We came in knowing we had to put some pressure on him and keep him contained as much as we could and we just weren’t able to get it done."
Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith echoed Smith's sentiment on McCown's mobility.
"You see it on tape. He’s a good runner, a good athlete, it wasn’t a big surprise at all to see him scrambling like that," Smith said.
Trailing early in the fourth quarter, McCown worked his magic again, guiding the Bears on an 11-play, 83-yard scoring drive. He went 5-of-6 for 68 yards, capped off by a Matt Forte 14-yard screen pass touchdown to give the Bears a 20-17 lead with a little more than 10 minutes remaining.
After the Ravens tied the game up with 3 seconds remaining, McCown wasn't rattled and showed his resiliency in overtime.
"We just talked about the opportunity," McCown said. "You have opportunities in life - rare opportunities to do some special things. We were sitting in front of one of those today, a couple of times. And to be out there today and and to have that in front of us today - it was chance to be special. The cool part about it is a chance to be special, not individually, but a chance to be special together. Do you know what I mean? To look at ten other guys in the huddle and say, "I've got your back and you've got mine and we're gonna do something' - including the guys on the sideline that are cheering us on.
"So, we just talked about that a little bit. For me, it puts me at ease. So I don't know if I'm talking to them as much as I'm talking to myself, just saying 'hey guys, we're gonna do this together'. It reminds me, 'hey Josh, that's Brandon Marshall, that's Roberto Garza and that's Jermon Bushrod.' We've got guys - there is Martellus Bennett and then turn around and give it to Matt Forte. So, it's just a reminder to myself to keep everything calm and allow those guys to work and it was fun."
On what resulted in the Bears biggest play in terms of yardage in the afternoon, McCown found Bennett down field on a 'sluggo' route for 43 yards to set the Bears up for the game-winning field goal attempt.
"That long completion was a heck of a call on their side," Ravens safety James Ihedigbo said. "He made a hell of a throw and catch down there on the outside."
A few plays after the completion, Gould was able to keep the ball just inside the the right post to give the Bears a 23-20 victory.
With Sunday's win over the Ravens, the Bears moved into a first-place tie with the Lions at 6-4 in the the NFC North, although Detroit holds the tiebreaker after sweeping the season series.
"Josh is a leader," Marshall said. "He's one of our captains even though he doesn't have a 'C' on his chest. He's awesome. He's been awesome for us. You can't ask for a better guy to lead the huddle."
McCown is doing exactly, if not more than, what the Bears have asked of him in relief of Cutler. The veteran quarterback hasn't had a game with a passer rating worse than 90 and has five touchdowns to zero interceptions. But most important, the Bears are 2-0 in games he has started.
Next up for the Bears is another winnable game in St. Louis. And with McCown showing he's clearly capable of getting the job done, there's no reason to make a quarterback switch until Cutler's ankle is fully healed.
For the time being, McCown is Mr. Right in Chicago.