McCown hands down winner in battle of backups

When Rodgers went down for Packers, Bears QB stepped up big time to lead way to victory

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GREEN BAY — For perhaps the first time in a generation of games between the NFL's most storied rivals, the Bears could make a declaration Monday night for which the Packers had no defense.

They had the best quarterback on the field.

No Joshin'.

The difference in the Bears' stunning 27-20 victory at Lambeau Field came down to Josh McCown stepping up to do what Packers No. 2 quarterback Seneca Wallace couldn't.

In the Battle of Backups, McCown played like a quarterback who was second to none — and suddenly the Bears find themselves in a first-place tie in the NFC North.

"This is really neat because it means so much to our team because it's for the division lead,'' McCown said.

It had been since Dec. 8, 1991 that the Packers had tried beating the Bears without either Brett Favre or Aaron Rodgers, whom defensive end Shea McClellin knocked out early with a left shoulder injury.

On that day 22 years ago, Jim Harbaugh outplayed Mike Tomczak in a victory over the Packers, but the examples of the Bears having the advantage at the position have been scarce since.

McCown's performance endorsed coach Marc Trestman's offensive system with command that backed up the confidence Bears teammates expressed in him. Whether staying strong in the pocket or scrambling for big gains, McCown looked like anything but Jay Cutler's understudy.

ESPN reported before kickoff that Cutler could return from his groin injury Sunday to start against the Lions. By the second quarter, most of Chicago wondered what the hurry was.

As well as McCown played, it would be foolish for the Bears to rush Cutler back.

It didn't take long to realize this was an opportunity McCown came ready to seize.

The Packers blitzed on third-and-6 with 9 minutes, 48 seconds left in the first quarter and McCown responded like a savvy veteran. He waited until the last possible second and delivered a pass Cutler couldn't have spotted any better to Brandon Marshall for a 23-yard touchdown.

On the 6-yard touchdown to Alshon Jeffery over Packers cornerback Davon House, McCown put the ball in the only spot he could.

As the scouts like to say, McCown made all the throws in completing 22 of 41 for 272 yards and two touchdowns. The threat of McCown hurting the Packers with his arm helped Matt Forte do damage with his feet as a dominant offensive line paved the way for 125 yards on 24 carries. The balance brought out the best in everybody.

Having started 33 previous NFL games, nothing about the "Monday Night Football'' stage fazed McCown. Intangibles helped McCown earn his place on the roster, but the talent he displayed against the Packers more than justified it. He easily outplayed Wallace, the 33-year-old who joined the Packers after training camp.

Realizing Wallace's limitations, Packers coach Mike McCarthy turned to a running game the Bears struggled to stop to compensate. The Packers gouged the Bears for 199 yards rushing.

As big as the holes were, it was obvious the Bears missed linebacker Lance Briggs much more than Cutler. Rookie linebackers Jon Bostic and Khaseem Greene will remember their first start together as a game they would rather forget. Safeties Major Wright and Chris Conte lined up deeper than necessary and their tentativeness, especially Conte's, created too much room.

But in a development long overdue, the Bears' pass rush saved the day with five sacks. Julius Peppers finally made his presence felt. McClellin, active all game, made the type of impact play for which all of Chicago had been waiting.

Knocking Rodgers out with a sack on the seventh play changed the game, and potentially the season, in the NFC. The Packers are much less-equipped to handle life without Rodgers than the Bears were to deal with the absence of Cutler.

But for the Bears to win more games this way, they must improve their abysmal special teams. Packers linebacker Jamari Lattimore beat Dante Rosario to block a punt that set up James Starks' 32-yard touchdown run. Then the Packers recovered an onside kick they converted into a field goal in a game that, like so many in the rivalry, turned on a bold coaching decision.

Facing fourth-and-1 with 7:50 left on the Bears' 32, Trestman decided to go for it when conventional wisdom said punt. Clearly, this was a night to throw convention to the Wisconsin wind.

"Once we got the call, it was, 'OK, it's time,''' center Roberto Garza said.

Forte converted and the dagger of an 18-play, 8:58 drive continued in the capable hands of McCown, the man who proved he was ready for prime time.

"Knowing my career, it would be hard to find one better than this,'' McCown said.

It was harder to see coming.

dhaugh@tribune.com

Twitter @DavidHaugh

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