The sports talk shows were abuzz this week about who should be the Bears starting Quarterback once Jay Cutler was healthy enough to return. Josh McCown is the latest in a long line of NFL quarterbacks that have peaked later in their careers. Players like Tommy Maddox, Derek Anderson and Erik Kramer had amazing seasons, but then generally went back to being backups after outstandings seasons.
The biggest exception to the rule was Jeff Hostetler. Hostetler took over for Phil Simms in 1990 and led the Giants to a Superbowl title. He turned that into a big contract with the Raiders.
Entering the 2013 season, McCown had never thrown for more than 11 touchdowns in a season. In all but one season, he had more interceptions than touchdowns and his highest quarterback rating had been 74.9.
His 2013 season has been remarkable. In seven games (five starts), the 34 year old journeyman has thrown for 1,809 yards with 13 touchdowns and one interception. For Quarterbacks who qualify, McCown's 109.9 QB rating ranks third behind Nick Foles and Peyton Manning. He might continue his amazing season, but the likelihood is that going forward, McCown will revert back to his own mean.
The Bears have had also had their share of Quarterbacks come and go after showing promise. Jim McMahon, Kramer, Jim Miller and Shane Matthews have all shown promise but unable to sustain success. Cutler is the first Bears Quarterback to lead the Bears in passing five consecutive seasons since Ed Brown from 1955-60.
Kramer had by far the best year of his career with the Bears in 1995 when threw for 3,838 yards, 29 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He never threw for more than 14 in the other nine years of his career. The 1998 Bears had the oddity of three 1000 yard passers. Miller, Matthew and McCown shuffled as the Bears starting Quarterback. It took until 2001 before they settled on Miller as the primary starter.
Cutler is arguably the franchise Quarterback that Bears fans were clamoring for since Sid Luckman retired. The perception of Cutler has been hurt by a seemingly surly personality. He has often been criticized for taking too many chances on offense, not being tough enough or not being a winner. In his six seasons in Chicago, Cutler has a 38-26 record with 95 touchdowns and 71 interceptions. In the last four seasons, Cutler has 68 td's and 45 int's. His durability does continue to be an issue.
He was off to one of the best starts of his career when he was injured October 20 against Washington. He came back for the Detroit game and had a good first half. He labored in the second half after suffering an injured ankle in the second quarter. That injury has sidelined him since November 10 after Cutler missed a game and a half earlier in the season.
Cutler would likely have set a career high in touchdowns and his second highest yardage total if not for the injuries. It has been highly publicized that Cutler has not had much stability with offensive coordinators. In his five seasons in Chicago, Marc Trestman and Aaron Kromer represent the fifth mastermind's calling plays for Cutler. His 88.4 passer rating and 63.2 QBR's also represent the second highest totals of his career. McKown's QBR of 85.7 leads the NFL.
In the court of public opinion McCown seems to have won the fans and media over. Cutler has a more extensive body of work. Although younger than McCown, Cutler has been an NFL starting quarterback since the end of his 2006 rookie season. In ten seasons in the NFL, he started only 38 games, while Cutler has started 100 in eight years.
The jury is still out on the long term answer for the Bears at Quarterback. In the middle of a chase the playoffs, Marc Trestman has to worry about the last three games of the season. The time for the Bears Quarterback of the future will come in the 2014 offseason. There should be an opportunity for the Bears to take a Quarterback as this is a very deep draft for QB's.
This will be an important stretch for Cutler. How he performs in the last three games will have a huge impact on his contract status this offseason. ESPNChicago's Jeff Dickerson writes.
"Cutler's effort down the stretch is likely to directly impact the kind of money he can demand on the open market. This is a crucial stretch for Cutler that could shape the remainder of his career."
Trestman has never wavered about Cutler being his starter. That has seemed to be the company line for the 21st century Quarterback. Lovie Smith was famously (or maybe infamously) quoted as saying "Rex (Grossman) is our Quarterback. Trestman's commitment to Cutler is important for the team psyche. Trestman said on ESPNChicago.Com
"“This decision was made a long time ago: That when Jay was ready to play, he would play,” Trestman said. “That’s how we planned to do it. I look at it [as] Jay’s our quarterback, and when he was ready to play, he was going to play. That’s the same words I used a month ago, and there’s no change today.”
McCown has not played in a pressure packed game in his NFL career. With the division title and a playoff spot on the line, bringing Cutler back is the right decision. The Bears face a tough last three games. They are on the road at Cleveland and Philadelphia and then return home for Green Bay. The Eagles are fighting for a division title and the Packers might be too. That will depend on the Bears and Lions' outcomes.
Cutler saw McCown play like an All-Pro Quarterback the last three games. He lit up St. Louis, Minnesota and Dallas for 1055 yards, ten touchdowns and one interception. Cutler has better tools and more experience. If he trusts Trestman and Kromer, the Bears offense should continue to roll.
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