ATM: Appreciating Josh McCown

| June 18th, 2019

Josh McCown announced his retirement yesterday after a 15-year career in which he played for seven teams, including the Bears from 2011-2013, with his final season being the one that extended his career and left fans wondering “what if?” It’s too bad most Bears fans couldn’t appreciate McCown’s time with the Bears.

But we all remember the Dallas game.

Monday Night Football.

Eight degrees with a wind chill of negative-nine.

Mike Ditka’s jersey being retired.

McCown — who half the fans were still calling McNown — balling out in a 45-28 Bears win.

[Editor’s Note: I was there. I didn’t thaw out until Friday.]

It was the most fun many of us ever had watching a Bears offense. They scored on all eight of their drives before ending the game by taking a knee. McCown, specifically, was special, going 27/36 with 348 yards, four touchdowns and another rushing. He spread the ball out too, as four players had five or more catches.

McCown’s performance was as special as we got until this past season when Mitch Trubisky torched the Buccaneers for six touchdowns.

And yet, we couldn’t enjoy it.

McCown, of course, was only filling in for injured starter Jay Cutler. Cutler had been decent in 2013. Who doesn’t remember the game-winning touchdown passes against Cincinnati and Minnesota to start the season? The big throws to help them beat Pittsburgh as they started 3-0. Hell, he was even great in an eight-point loss to New Orleans.

The debate about which player should be the team’s quarterback had points on both sides. Cutler played against better defenses and didn’t get nearly the teammate support. McCown had a fair amount of luck, with a handful of dropped interceptions, but perhaps there was a reason the teammates were better with McCown? And perhaps luck shouldn’t have been dismissed?

It was arguably the best we had seen Cutler play with the Bears, but even Cutler’s best lacked the magic we got with McCown. It’s almost a shame that we never got to find out if the magic would run out.

The special part about McCown’s performance is that he always seemed to come up with a big play or a big drive when the team needed it. They beat the Packers, beat the Ravens and were in position to beat the Vikings a week before the Cowboys game if not for a weird Robbie Gould miss.

Cutler finished that season with 19 touchdowns and 12 interceptions with a passer rating of 89.2. With 131 fewer attempts, McCown had 13 touchdowns and just one interception with a passer rating of 109 — one of the best marks in the league that year. McCown averaged 309 passing yards per start, over the course of a 16 game season that would’ve put him at more than 4,900 yards and 35 touchdowns.  We’ve never seen a Bears quarterback come close to doing that.

It seems impossible to argue that McCown didn’t have a better grasp on the offense. Even if his passes weren’t as crisp, the offense just looked smooth when McCown was under center, exactly how it was supposed to look. The Bears averaged more than 27 points per game in McCown’s starts and scored 31 in less than three quarters with him playing in relief of Cutler in another game.

It seems doubtful that McCown could’ve saved the Emery/Trestman era. They had a complete lack of knowledge when it came to the defensive side of the ball and Trestman’s lack of leadership is a large part of the reason the 2014 season ended up the way it did in the first place.

But there’s no question that there was something special about McCown’s 2013 season with the Bears. Maybe the magic would’ve run out, but it’s almost tragic that we never got to find out.

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