LANDOVER, Md. -- An 11-year veteran, Josh McCown knows backup quarterbacks don’t receive practice reps. So he learned the art of stealing them, which in turn helped McCown hijack an otherwise dismal Bears showing Sunday in a 45-41 loss at Washington.
“It’s just how it is,” McCown explained of the practice-rep situation. “That’s uniform throughout the league.”
So when Jay Cutler lines up at practice to run a play, McCown grabs backup center Taylor Boggs, and from behind the No. 1 offense, takes a snap, and shadows the starting quarterback’s every move. When it was time to step out of Cutler’s shadow in the second quarter, McCown seemed more than ready.
"I didn't ask him what he liked or what he didn't like. I just called the plays according to the plan we had put together," Bears coach Marc Trestman said. "I thought he functioned very well, moved the ball, had the confidence and led his teammates."
McCown passed for 204 yards and a touchdown in the fourth quarter to Martellus Bennett after entering the game with 10:09 left in the first half, when Cutler suffered a groin injury on a 6-yard sack from Chris Baker. The performance gives the team optimism about McCown's ability to perform if Cutler is forced to miss an extended period due to the groin injury.
Cutler will undergo an MRI on Monday.
“It’s obviously not ideal (to not receive practice reps), but the expectations are that you play well, know what you’re doing, now where you’re going with the ball, and all those things,” McCown said. “Those 45 guys that have uniforms on, they expect me to come in and play well, and give us a chance to win.”
Through the first four drives with Cutler at the controls, the Bears failed to move the chains on all three third-down conversions, and watched Brian Orakpo return an interception 29 yards for a touchdown as the Redskins took a 24-17 lead into intermission. Chicago generated 46 yards on offense through the first two quarters, with McCown engineering the final possession of the second quarter after Cutler's injury.
In the second half, Chicago converted 50 percent of third downs in addition to racking up 313 yards.
“He functioned like a starting quarterback. When he stepped in there, he took over the huddle,” Trestman said. “He took care of the football. He moved the football team. It was very chaotic out there today. (Redskins defensive coordinator) Jim Haslett did a good job of mixing his defenses up. Josh handled it very well. He doesn’t get any practice time. The backup never does. So Josh did a very good job today.”
In addition to completing 70 percent of his throws for a passer rating of 119.6, McCown scrambled four times for 33 yards and in the fourth quarter alone led three scoring drives, while completing 7 of 10 for 115 yards and a 7-yard touchdown to Bennett with 4:02 left to play. The scoring strike gave the Bears a 41-38 lead after the extra point.
“Josh was just a leader,” left tackle Jermon Bushrod said. “Jay is tough as nails, and the fact that he went down after the second hit of the game, (McCown came in) and did well. When he gets his opportunity in the games, he knows the flow of it. He knows where the pressure’s coming from, what he needs to do, where he needs to step up. He came out and was spreading that ball around, making sure were in position to almost win that game.”
It’s unknown whether McCown will be thrust back into that situation anytime soon. The Bears expect to receive results from an MRI on Cutler sometime Monday, and the upcoming bye week should buy some time for the starting quarterback during his recovery process.
If forced to play with McCown under center moving forward, several players expressed confidence in the veteran’s ability.
“We’ve got the best guy you want to have at the No. 2 position,” receiver Brandon Marshall said. “Josh, he’s really a captain on this team. He just doesn’t have the 'C' on his chest.”
But McCown could be asked soon to put the team on his back.