Since Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler first injured his hamstring in Week 7, the team was adamant that, no matter what happened while he was out, when Cutler returned, he would be the starter. From the front office to the coaches to the players, everyone spoke in chorus to Cutler's status as the starter.
"We have a very close quarterback room," coach Marc Trestman said today. "Everybody knows our situation; there was never any doubt that this was the direction we were going to go. We said that from the beginning. Josh did a tremendous job as a backup. Jay's healthy and ready to go and he'll play on Sunday."
With Josh McCown under center the past four games, the Bears have gone 2-2, losing games they should have won against both the St. Louis Rams and Minnesota Vikings – teams with records under .500. Yet after McCown threw four touchdowns against the worst defense in the league, and ran in a fifth, folks have been absolutely up in arms regarding McCown's status as the backup.
Articles criticizing Trestman were posted seconds after Cutler was named the starter, each one of them questioning Trestman's ability to make the right decision for this offense. They are questioning the coach who has pulled Chicago's offense out of the basement of the league and turned it into a Top 10 unit in just one season. They are questioning a coach who has worked almost exclusively with quarterbacks his entire 30-plus years as a football coach, the one who is almost solely responsible for McCown's career resurrection.
Everyone has a right to their opinion but Trestman made the correct call for a number of reasons.
First, how could he change his mind at the last second after consistently stating that Cutler would be the starter once he returned? If he flip-flops like that, in such a public and meaningful way, who can trust anything he says going forward, including his players? At that point, Trestman would have lost all credibility, similar to Mike Shanahan in Washington right now.
Second, Cutler was playing at the highest level of his career before the injury. His 63.0 completion percentage and 88.4 passer rating are both better than his Pro Bowl season in 2008. Through eight starts, he has 13 passing touchdowns, a pace that would have resulted in 26 TDs, which is one more than the 25 he threw in his Pro Bowl year. Cutler is ranked sixth in the league in 4th-quarter QB rating (106.9) and is 10th in the NFL in third-down QB rating (92.3) – just behind Aaron Rodgers. The Bears aren't replacing McCown with Caleb Hanie, they're bringing back a Pro Bowler who was on his way to reaching his immense potential.
Third, before facing the Cowboys' 32nd ranked defense, Chicago's offense was averaging six points fewer in games that McCown started compared to games Cutler started and finished. And when it come down to it, what's more important than points on the board?
Fourth, the Bears were 4-2 in Cutler's six full games, while McCown has gone 3-2 in his five starts. McCown has put up some great numbers and deserves all the praise he's currently receiving. His 13/1 TD/INT ratio is outstanding and he's one of the main reasons the Bears are still in the playoff hunt. Yet McCown, a career journeyman who was coaching high school football a few years ago, doesn't give the Bears a better chance to win than Cutler, the much more talented signal caller.
Finally, does anyone think Cutler, who will soon become a free agent, would return to Chicago if he were benched right now? If Trestman sits Cutler, he's gone. Plain and simple. You can't disrespect a guy like that and then expect him to come waltzing back for more punishment.
If that happens, the Bears risk going down the all-too-familiar path of mediocre quarterback play. There's no guarantee that any soon-to-be free agent or draft pick is going to have success in Chicago – and McCown is 34, so he's not a long-term option. And if that happens, and the Bears roll back to the days of Craig Krenzel, Kordell Stewart and Cade McNown – to name just a small sample of the long list of horrendous passers in Bears recent history – then both Tretsman and Emery will soon be looking for jobs.
With Cutler, you have an immensely talented, Pro Bowl passer who just three years ago helped guide Chicago to the NFC Championship game, with Devin Hester as his best wideout.
Let's get real guys, this was the only decision Trestman and the Bears could make, and it was the right one.
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He is in his third season covering the Chicago Bears full time. Follow Bear Report on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Bear Report Web site or magazine, click here.