Speaking on a conference call last week, Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith turned the tables on a group of reporters. Asked about the rookie quarterback he's likely to face Monday night, Smith laughed and said: "You guys could probably tell more about him than me. So let's have your scouting report."
To put it bluntly, does it matter? Whoever takes the Minnesota Vikings' first snap will be the fourth backup quarterback the Bears have faced this season. Smith's team has won all three previous games, allowing a total of 26 points and limiting the passers to an average of 142 yards per game.
ESPNChicago.com's Jon Greenberg suggested the "Bears are getting another break in a season full of fortune." Indeed, they appear to be living the kind of charmed existence necessary for most division winners in this era of NFL parity.
And let's be clear: The Bears won't simply be facing a backup quarterback at TCF Bank Stadium. The Vikings' starter will be a pull-the-ripcord-emergency replacement for Brett Favre and Tarvaris Jackson, both of whom suffered significant injuries in consecutive weeks.
The Vikings announced Saturday they will start Joe Webb -- a sixth-round draft choice once projected as a receiver and whose future position remains unclear. His backup will be journeyman Patrick Ramsey, whose first practice with the team was Thursday.
Webb's ascendance should please fans of both teams. For the Vikings, he represents the excitement of the unknown at the end of a deeply disappointing season. The Bears have remained publicly respectful of Webb, but surely they know he is the rawest quarterback they have faced this season and one who will start only through unique circumstances.
If common sense had prevailed in the spring, Webb would be into his 15th week as a receiver/kick returner/Wildcat quarterback. That was the original vision after Senior Bowl coaches switched him from quarterback to receiver in January. Webb, in fact, gained some national buzz after the emergence of a YouTube video that showed him jumping over seven stacked drill bags.
The Vikings drafted him as a receiver, but former coach Brad Childress switched him to quarterback during rookie minicamp. (My theory is that Webb was a pawn in Childress' vendetta against former backup Sage Rosenfels, whom he wanted to jettison. Making Webb the presumptive No. 3 quarterback provided the perfect avenue. But I digress....)
Is he a quarterback because of his skills or as the result of a Machiavellian sideshow? I'm not sure. Regardless, Webb has appeared permanently amused ever since. As in: Not even I can believe I'm a quarterback on a National Football League roster. Watching him practice and interact with teammates has been at once charming and frightening.
"I really like his attitude," offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said. "He's got great confidence in his ability. He's kind of an unflappable guy. He does come across like he doesn't know what he doesn't know [and doesn't know] what he's getting himself into. He just really does believe in his ability and that he can make plays in the field."
We'll find out Monday night if that confidence is justified or borne from blissful ignorance. Frankly, it could be either. Webb had the kind of training camp that made you cringe at times and raise an eyebrow at others. He'd throw a 6-yard duck followed by a 50-yard rope. He tantalized late-game preseason observers with a 48-yard touchdown run against the San Francisco 49ers and, as expected, helped nudge Rosenfels off the roster in September.
Considering Favre's 18-year streak of consecutive starts, the decision carried little weight at the time. But now Webb is set to make his first NFL start on "Monday Night Football" against a defense that ranks fifth in the NFL with 26 takeaways. Oh, and the game-time temperature is expected to be around 20 degrees -- or about 20 degrees lower than the coldest game he said he ever started at Alabama-Birmingham.
"I mean, it's a great opportunity. "Monday Night Football," you can't get better than that," Webb said. "You've been dreaming that ever since you've been a little kid. Watching the game ever since you've been a little kid and now I'm probably going to be a part of it. [I'd] love to take advantage of it."
Webb has carried himself as a happy-go-lucky interloper in an NFL locker room. Monday night, he'll have a chance to demonstrate he belongs on the big stage.
"Joe, he is a character," Bevell said. "He's got great personality. The guys like him. The players around him feed off his energy. But he has great confidence, and I don't think he has any doubt about stepping in the huddle, calling plays, doing what we're asking him to do. ... As long as he's working within the offense, who can't believe in him?"