Note: At publishing time, Jay Cutler has not been ruled out for Monday night's game. But I maintain a firm belief that we won't see Jay until next Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings.
UPDATE 11/16. 11:52 am CT. Jay Cutler has been ruled out Monday night against the 49ers.
When the 2011 season ended, Jason Campbell believed he would find a starting job outside Oakland in 2012. By the start of free agency he understood that to be unlikely and on the first day of the signing period inked a surprising $3.5 million contract to backup Jay Cutler for the Chicago Bears. It was a coup for new Bears GM Phil Emery; a man determined to never allow another season on the Lakefront be Hanie'd.
I imagine the conversation between Jason Campbell and his agent went something like this:
Campbell: So there's no starting jobs out there?
Campbell: What's the best backup job out there?
Agent: Well, there are possibilities.
Agent: The Jets have Mark Sanchez but they are running an offense from the Triassic Period and their best running back is Shonn Greene.
Campbell: That doesn't sound good.
Agent: And their owner never takes his baseball cap off. Never trust a man over 50 in a baseball cap.
Campbell: What else?
Agent: The Rams are looking for a backup to Sam Bradford but you'll more than likely be mopping up losses for a four-win teams.
Campbell: No mops.
Campbell: Is that it?
Agent: The Bears.
Campbell: Cold there...
Agent: Yea but...
Campbell: Real cold...
Agent: Only in the winter.
Campbell: I'm from Mississippi.
Agent: Yes, yes...
Campbell: Went to Auburn...
Agent: Went UNDEFEATED at Auburn one year!
Campbell: Don't remind me.
Campbell: Undefeated in the SEC! Undefeated in the gosh darn SEC with Cadillac and Ronnie and Carlos and Marcus McNeil and -
Agent: I know.
Campbell: It's cold in Chicago.
Agent: They are a good team. Potentially great team. But their offensive line can't pass protect and the backup quarterback is always ten seconds away from taking over a playoff run. Did you see what Caleb Hanie walked into last year?
Agent: Caleb Hanie.
Campbell: Never heard of him.
Agent: He's the night manager at a Denver Chik-Fil-A but last year he was the backup quarterback in Chicago. Took over a 7-3 team and ran them into the ground. Imagine that were you...
Agent: Imagine you were taking over a 7-3 team.
Campbell: That'd be nice.
Agent: You take over that 7-3, win a couple games and you're in the playoffs. Then you showcase your talent for the league. You'll be starting again the next season.
Campbell: I like it.
Agent: Should we sign there?
Campbell: How much?
Agent: I can get them to $3.5 million.
Campbell: Not bad.
Agent: I'm good at my job.
Campbell: See if they'll throw in a coat.
Monday night is Campbell's night. Its an opportunity to peddle his wares for the whole of the league, on national television, against one of the best defenses in the sport. Campbell is not Todd Collins, an old man trying to stabilize the position. He is not Josh McCown, a journeyman trying to capitalize on a last shot at NFL success. He is not Caleb Hanie, a young quarterback trying to find a foothold in the league. Campbell is trying to prove to every GM in this nation he is worthy of being their opening day starter in September 2013. (And if he's unable to do that, he's trying to show Phil Emery he's worth a long-term extension as Cutler's backup.)
How can he do it? It won't be by flinging the ball forty yards whenever he sees Devin Hester running down the sideline. No NFL franchise will be signing Campbell this offseason to be the second coming of Dan Fouts. It will be by handing the ball to Forte and Bush 40 times. It will be by avoiding the edge rush and using his legs to extend plays/move the chains. It will be by putting together a stat line that looks something like this: 14-20, 189 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT.
Most importantly, it will be by winning - by beating the Niners and their defense in their house. If Campbell does that Monday night I would imagine folks in New Jersey, Arizona and Kansas City would take notice. I know the folks at Halas Hall will.