Jay vs. everybody

Chicago loves its backup QBs—until they fall off the map

November 21, 2013|By Jack M Silverstein , For RedEye

When the Bears take the field Sunday against St. Louis, Josh McCown will be the starting quarterback for the third time in four games. The Bears are 2-0 in his starts this year and likely would have defeated Detroit on Nov. 10 had McCown played instead of a still-injured Jay Cutler.

But before McCown's success leads to the inevitable clamoring from Bears fans and pundits suggesting that McCown retain the starting job ahead of a healthy Cutler, let's remind ourselves that we have a habit of overreacting to backups' success.

With that in mind, here is a look at Bears fans' ever-fluctuating views of the team's non-Cutler QB as graded on the "Better-Than-Cutler" Scale.

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KYLE ORTON

After leading the Bears to a 9-7 season in 2008, the team shipped Kyle Orton to Denver for Cutler and two first-round picks. A vocal faction of Bears fans pooh-poohed the trade; even Brian Urlacher later admitted he was less than thrilled with the move. "We got rid of our quarterback at the time, Kyle Orton, who I didn't think needed to be traded in the first place," Urlacher said earlier this year.

Six games into the 2009 season, Orton's Broncos were 6-0 while Cutler's Bears were 3-3, and the anti-Cutler "I-told-you-so" voice grew stronger. Then the floor dropped out. Cutler's record after those first six games? 35-23. Orton's? 8-22.

"BETTER-THAN-CUTLER" SCALE

Before 2009: 7 out of 10

After 2009: 2 out of 10

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TODD COLLINS

Collins was the only Cutler backup whom Bears fans saw through immediately. He got his first action of 2010 in Week 3 after the N.Y. Giants knocked Cutler out, then proceeded to get knocked out himself. He started the next week against Carolina in what has to be the worst performance ever for a winning NFL quarterback: no touchdowns, four interceptions, 32 yards. He didn't play again until the NFC championship game, where he threw four passes, completed none and was yanked for Caleb Hanie. He never played in the league again.

"BETTER-THAN-CUTLER" SCALE

Before 2010: 3 out of 10

After 2010: 0 out of 10

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CALEB HANIE

The "Better-Than-Cutler" insanity peaked with Caleb Hanie. He subbed for Todd Collins in both the aforementioned Giants and Panthers games. Nobody thought he was better than Cutler, though he was clearly better than Collins. After Collins' disastrous NFC title game, Hanie subbed in with a Super Bowl berth on the line. He threw two horrific picks but led the team to one touchdown, and with Bears fans harshly turning on Cutler for his failure to re-enter the game, a cuddly love-bubble coalesced around Hanie.

The implication was clear: "If Jay goes down, we'll be fine. Hell, if it's between rooting for that unlikable brute Cutler or that go-getter Hanie, I know who I'll take!" That is, until Bears fans saw him in sustained action after Cutler's 2011 season-ending injury in Week 11. Hanie took over and lost all four of his starts. He hasn't thrown an NFL pass since.

"BETTER-THAN-CUTLER" SCALE

After the NFC title game: 6 out of 10

After 2011: 0 out of 10

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JASON CAMPBELL

After the Hanie experiment, the Bears settled on a truly novel idea: "What if we found a—stay with me here—a competent backup quarterback? Just in case, ya know, Cutler gets injured. Again." Enter Jason Campbell. Not even the most ardent Cutler-bashers thought Campbell could unseat Cutler, but with an 11-7 record in two seasons in Oakland, fans at least thought the team was prepared in the event of another Cutler injury.

That injury came in a Week 10 loss to Houston, setting up Campbell's first start of the season in a Week 11 game in San Francisco. His opponent would be another backup, some no-name called Colin Kaepernick. Campbell bombed in his one start as a Bear (107 yards, 1 TD, 2 INTs), and Cutler returned the next week.

"BETTER-THAN-CUTLER" SCALE

Before the San Francisco game: 5 out of 10

After the San Francisco game: 1 out of 10

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JOSH MCCOWN

When Hanie flamed out in 2011, third-stringer Josh McCown started the season's final two games, losing to Green Bay before beating Minnesota. After an on-again-off-again relationship with the Bears, McCown entered this season as the No. 2 man. After Cutler was knocked out of the Washington game, McCown faced the impossible challenge of starting a game at Lambeau Field. His surprising victory and subsequent success have the "QB controversy" chatter starting up again.

"BETTER-THAN-CUTLER" SCALE

Before the Gren Bay game: 3 out of 10

After the Baltimore game: 5 out of 10

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Jack M Silverstein is a RedEye special contributor. @readjack

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