There are few things the sports world loves more than a good, old-fashioned quarterback controversy. This season, the debate has settled in Chicago, with Jay Cutler set to return from an ankle injury as soon as next Sunday amid stellar play by journeyman Josh McCown. That situation was further clouded by Monday's resounding 45-28 Bears victory over the Dallas Cowboys.
The Bears entered last night one game behind the Detroit Lions in the NFC North, and looked dead in the water after last week's disappointing overtime loss to the Minnesota Vikings. Monday's win gave Chicago renewed playoff hope, however slim: The Bears must win their final three games -- against the Cleveland Browns, Philadelphia Eagles and Green Bay Packers -- and have the Lions drop one to win their division, a long shot given that Detroit closes the regular season with a relatively easy schedule, facing the Baltimore Ravens, New York Giants and Vikings.
Chicago's decision thus has implications on both its immediate postseason goals and its future. At 34 and with more than a decade of forgettable play in the NFL, McCown is not a long-term solution. The jury's still out on Cutler, whose contract expires at the end of this year and could have a tough road of negotiations ahead as he enters free agency. Although general manager Phil Emery has said that all contract issues would be addressed in the offseason, he dismissed the possibility of franchise-tagging Cutler for 2014, which would cost the team about $16 million a year in a new deal.
Financial considerations aside, head coach Marc Trestman reportedly loves Cutler, who, before his injury, seemed to be adjusting well to his new coach's system. Doing his best to lay to rest the debate, Trestman said outright that Cutler will start as soon as he is medically cleared. McCown has reiterated his role as a backup and seems to have no delusions about usurping the starting role.
Despite that the man who will ultimately decide which player to start is telling you exactly what he plans to do, reporters and fans alike are torn, aided and abetted by Monday's lopsided showing. Yes, McCown threw for four touchdowns, 348 yards and no picks, and the Bears scored on every single possession they had -- but they did so against the worst defense in the league. It's also easy to see McCown's remarkable play in his five starts, good for a 109.8 quarterback rating, and be lured into the trap of the "hot hand," as many have suggested riding McCown's momentum all the way to the playoffs. But what then? Do Bears fans really think that Josh McCown, whose career QBR rests at a much more modest 77.6, can call the shots all the way to the Super Bowl?
It doesn't actually matter. Trestman has made it clear who his guy is -- for this season, at least.