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Hey Jay Cutler, let's be clear about one thing. You need to be perfectly healthy if you are going to return to the Bear lineup. It won't a problem if Josh McCown goes back to the bench if a 100 percent fully recovered starting quarterback is replacing him.
But that guy who took the field against the Lions a few weeks ago? The one who wasn't completely healthy at the start of the game and then got worse as the contest went on, especially from the start of the second half on? We better not see that guy again this season after McCown, who had been very good so far during his run replacing Cutler, was great against the Cowboys in a 45-28 win last night.
In becoming the first Bears quarterback since Jack Concannon in 1970 to pass for four touchdowns and run for a fifth, McCown posted his seventh (7!) consecutive 90.0-plus single-game quarterback rating. Plain and simple: Cutler has never put together a streak like that.
McCown is going to get paid in the off-season. The soon-to-be-former back-up will get a shot at starting somewhere in the NFL. The consensus among the "experts" in Chicago has been that the Bears' first priority was taking care of Cutler's contract. The thought has been that he should have the first shot at running this offense in 2014, even if the team had to franchise him and pay him $16 million in the process.
Surely even the most simple-minded of analysts have to now be thinking that isn't necessarily the case. Here is another fascinating fact: Did you know that at 33, Tony Romo, who earlier this year signed a whopping $108 million contract extension with the Cowboys, is all of one year younger than McCown? If I am McCown's agent, I play the tape of the highlights of last night's win for any and all interested teams when negotiations begin in a few months. On a brutally cold night in Chicago, McCown was considerably better than the $108 million man.
Cutler is 30, by the way. And Rich Gannon was 36 when he began his run with Trestman as his coach with the Raiders at the turn of the millennium, a run that was capped off by a Most Valuable Player award and a Super Bowl berth in 2002.
Of course the system is partly, if not mostly, the thing. And in terms of future contract negotiations, that in itself is exciting. It certainly seems as though when negotiations begin, Bears general manager Phil Emery talks to Cutler and McCown on the same day and points out that it is worth millions for a quarterback to have a chance to play for the quarterback guru. Which guy will sign a discounted contract first?
As for the rest of the offense . . . Alshon Jeffery! Enough said. Brandon Marshall! Another 100-yard receiving game puts him over 1,000 yards on the season for the seventh time in his career. And if that wasn't enough, there was Earl Bennett (!) proving the last few weeks that he can carve out an important role in the passing game even if he isn't quite big enough to be one of the new Monsters of the Midway like the first two and tight end Martellus Bennett.
A quick additional note about Marshall, who is a beautifully multi-faceted football player. He did a great job blocking downfield all game long and he also made a great play tipping away a potential interception early in the second half.
And about Jeffrey and more importantly, the man who drafted him, Phil Emery. Hey Phil, it seems clear you still feel the need to defend 2012 first-round draft pick Shea McClellin as being a better defensive end than people think, even though McClellin fails the eye test week after week. But given how you nailed the second pick (Jeffery) in that draft, perhaps you should cut yourself a little more slack. Who cares who you took in the first round when you took the most exciting receiver in Bears history in the second?
(The only downside to Jeffery isn't even his fault. The Bears' worst offensive play of the evening bar none was the reverse to Jeffrey that lost seven yards in the first half. Coach Trestman, can we please, please put that play away for at least a few weeks?)
The second half was the way it is going to be with the Bears with this coach, which is different than it has ever been in my 40 years of fandom. If the short-handed Cowboys were going to keep moving an eighth man into the box to stymie the Bears rushing game, the Bears were going to keep passing, even if they had a big lead and could almost certainly just keep running the football and eventually run out the clock.
They were going to keep doing so even after several near-interceptions. And just when I was ready to say, "Just run the ball every time already and punt if you have to," McCown completes one to Earl Bennett to convert yet another third-and-huge.
Other than never punting and never committing a turnover (thanks Cowboy cornerback Brandon Carr for that well-timed defensive holding!) . . . all in all a routine outing for a Bears offense.
As for the defense, well, it still stinks but the Cowboy D stinks way worse. Will the Bears rookie linebackers ever start to achieve even a tiny bit of competence? From the first play, when Jon Bostic, Khaseem Greene and veteran James Anderson all over-ran the hole as DeMarco Murray slashed forward for one of his many double-digit gains, it was another brutal night for the guys with numbers in the 50s.
Then again, the D did achieve a huge three-and-out stop after the Cowboys took advantage of a Bears coverage breakdown to return a kickoff past midfield to start their first possession of the second half. After the resulting punt, the Bears drove 90 yards down the field, running eight or nine minutes off the clock and eventually scoring the absolute back-breaking touchdown to lead 34-14.
And finally, regarding Mike Ditka: It became a little weird in the last few decades, when it became clear that the coach was willing to put his name on anything - from virility pills to jewelry - if it meant he could make another buck. But the guy has simply personified what the team and the city aspire to for a ridiculously long time.
If the capper to Ditka's halftime speech - the "Go Bears!" - didn't stir the soul of a Bears fan, he or she must be dead, or at least frozen solid.
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