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Stop the debate! Jay Cutler tops Josh McCown

Do you agree with Rick?




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Updated: December 20, 2013 6:33AM



The story is a good one: A 34-year-old career journeyman has big success in relief of the injured big-name quarterback, leading to a discussion of who the starter should be. Did we mention the journeyman was an assistant high school coach in Waxhaw, N.C., as recently as 2012?

Arguing against the idea of Josh McCown is like arguing against peace, love and understanding.

McCown vs. Jay Cutler is the debate that won’t go away, at least outside of the Bears’ facility, especially after the way McCown played in the second half and overtime of a victory over the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday. And it’s not going away this week, not after the Bears announced that Cutler also would miss the game in St. Louis with a sprained ankle and not after Cutler cast doubt that he’d be ready for the game after that at Minnesota.

I don’t want to call it a raging debate because I think most reasonable people understand the Bears already have made their decision — the decision being there’s no decision to make.

‘‘Jay is the quarter­back of our football team, and Josh is our backup quarterback,’’ coach Marc Trestman said at Halas Hall for about the 100th time this season. ‘‘And the three of us all know that, and that hasn’t changed. It’s not going to change.’’

Cutler is their quarterback. He should be their quarterback. He’s a better quarterback than McCown is, no matter the offense.

So, please stop.

I don’t want to minimize what McCown has done, and even if I did, it’s almost impossible to do. One hundred one pass attempts without an interception this season? A passer rating of 100.0 in four games?

The problem is that, by even dipping a toe into the debate, you end up denigrating McCown. That’s not fair to him. But the numbers are the numbers: Pre-2013, he threw 37 career touchdown passes and 44 interceptions and had a passer rating of 71.2.

After four games and two starts by McCown, it’s fair to say the offensive system is playing a big role in his late blooming, though Trestman again disputed that Monday. It’s not coincidence that McCown and Cutler have had career-best streaks without an interception while playing for Trestman. Cutler had 100 passes without an interception until a pick-6 against the Washington Redskins.

That last fact, the pick-6, is ammunition for the McCown for President crowd. Cutler takes more risks and makes more mistakes. Therefore, the argument goes, he stinks.

Trestman’s system puts a premium on good decisions. That’s why McCown has been successful. He hasn’t made many bad mistakes. And he has Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery as targets.

But that doesn’t mean McCown is the better fit. It means he hasn’t tried to go beyond the limits of his abilities, which is smart. Someday, an opponent is going to realize he doesn’t have the strongest arm, that he works the middle often and that they might want to get up on Bears receivers a little more. I’m not sure that day is coming in St. Louis on Sunday or in Minneapolis the following week. But it will come, eventually.

It’s why McCown has played for four teams in 10-plus seasons and why he sat out most of two seasons.

See? Now you’ve made me seem anti-McCown.

For a guy winning games, Trestman is in a no-win situation. If he praises McCown too much, it fuels the fire being stoked by the pro-Josh bloc. If he doesn’t praise him enough, he comes across as overly protective of a sensitive Cutler.

One factor in the public debate is Cutler’s cuddly factor, somewhere between steel wool and sandpaper. But he was having his best season as a Bear before he got hurt. People seem to be forgetting that beautiful pass he dropped into Martellus Bennett’s hands for the game-winner against the Minnesota Vikings. Few can complete that throw.

I don’t know if he’s the right guy for the Bears long-term. I just know he’s better than McCown. There very well could be somebody who will end up being better than both for the Bears.

McCown has been so good that you’re no longer part of the lunatic fringe in Chicago for wanting a backup QB to be a starter. It might even make you mainstream.

But it doesn’t make you right.



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