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SportsMonday: Barkley Buoys Bears

How often during the past several years were Bears fans told by the local sports commentariat that they were stuck with quarterback Jay Cutler because "Who are they going to bring in who's better?" They must have repeated that mantra 10,000 times.

But there was always one primary problem: No one knows what a guy can do until he gets a chance. And with the easily offended Cutler in the way, no one was getting a legit chance with the Bears (although Brian Hoyer probably would have this year if he hadn't broken his arm).

There was one exception: Josh McCown showed what he could do with a decent offensive line and some awesome talent at receiver during eight starts when Cutler was out injured in 2013 (among other things he threw 13 touchdown passes against just one pick).

But local professional sports analysts convinced themselves that Cutler would be better going forward. And when McCown signed in Tampa and then struggled the next year, oh how they loved to tell his supporters how wrong they were. That was a Tampa team, by the way, with absolutely no playmakers of note.

Now Matt Barkley is getting a chance behind a makeshift offensive line and a receiving corps that is without its three top talents (Alshon Jeffrey, Kevin White and Zach Miller). And right off the bat let's say that, of course, the Tennessee Titans and San Francisco 49ers (who the Bears beat 26-6 on Sunday) aren't the most vigorous competition. And yes, yesterday's completion-less first quarter was downright ugly.

But there is no denying that Barkley bounced back and is showing some potential (in the pouring snow he was 11-for-18 passing for 192 yards - i.e., his yards per attempt was above 10, an impressive number). And Barkley is still young enough (26) that there is plenty of reason to believe his career could arc upward from here.

There is also reason to remember that playing quarterback in the NFL is brutally difficult. And that means Barkley almost certainly won't lead a team to a championship - and he'll have plenty of company, what with only one of 32 teams winning the thing once a year.

But the man made a host of impressive passes in tough conditions. And these weren't dinky little passes that featured tons of YAC (yards after catch). They were almost all deep outs and fades and crossing routes.

Barkley acknowledged after the game that he had to adjust some fundamental mechanics to make passing work in that weather. The fact that he was able to do so? Also promising. Colin Kaepernick had no success doing any such thing before he was benched for the fourth quarter.

Next training camp, Barkley should have a shot at the job. But so should Connor Shaw, the rookie who showed promise in training camp before suffering a broken leg. And the Bears will have to draft a signal-caller who will give them another option.

But hopefully not in the first round. Hopefully in the first round, the Bears will have a chance to further stock their defense, a defense that had a great day against a San Francisco offense that had consistently moved the ball during the last month. If the Bears get someone as good as last year's first-round pick, Leonard Floyd, who recorded his sixth and seventh sacks on Sunday, they might just be getting somewhere.

And, of course, the offense will continue to make running the football a priority. And it becomes more and more apparent that in Jordan Howard, the Bears have a powerful back with good vision and instincts. But that is never enough. The running game didn't open up Sunday until Barkley started completing passes downfield.

Finally, Barkley is certainly a better guy than Cutler, who held perhaps the most painful press conferences in Bears history in his first few years with the team, when he was still convinced he was God's greatest gift to quarterbacking.

Cutler matured a bit through the years but still had plenty of lousy habits, like making sure everyone knew when an interception was a receiver's fault or failing to execute basic passing protocols or committing the . . . most . . . infuriating . . . turnovers. The primary way he will be remembered (and he is gone after this season, let's be absolutely clear about that) is for playing just well enough for the Bears to lose, especially in games that even began to mean anything.

We can look forward to Barkley or Shaw or who knows what rookie having a chance to show what they can do in meaningful games next season.


Jim "Coach" Coffman welcomes your comments.

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