CHICAGO -- Chicago Bears coach Marc Trestman has proven his willingness to take a gamble, yet his biggest risk awaits when quarterback Jay Cutler returns from an ankle sprain.
After Josh McCown became the first Bears quarterback to ever throw for 300 or more yards in three consecutive games in a 45-28 Monday night win over Dallas, Trestman and all involved continued to insist Cutler is still the starter, which could be a real risk.
"There's no change in the plan," Trestman said. "We'll see where Jay is this week. He'll have to be released by the doctors. When Jay's ready to play, he'll being playing."
It would seem there is nothing McCown can do to keep the spot despite a 109.8 passer rating, which trails only Nick Foles (120) and Peyton Manning (114.5) in league rankings. And Trestman won't acknowledge that McCown's play at least gives the team time to be cautious with Cutler in order to avoid bringing him back too soon."
"It has nothing to do with cautiousness," he said. "(We're) taking this very methodically. The doctors understand that. When he's (Cutler) good to go and can have a full week of practice, he'll be our quarterback."
So the Bears have climbed back into a first-place tie in the NFC North with the Detroit Lions at 7-6, the passing game is operating at peak efficiency with McCown throwing 13 touchdowns to one interception and the offense is keeping a collapsing defense off the field by driving and scoring without turnovers. Yet Trestman is willing to bring back a quarterback who has 13 touchdown passes against eight interceptions and has been injured twice already this season.
That's a real gamble.
For his part, McCown entirely understands the process and is not stumping for the job.
"It's completely reasonable. I'm the backup," he said. "Jay's our starter. When Jay is healthy, Jay should be the starting quarterback. That's really it. I don't go out here going, 'You know what, if I do this now I'll be the starter.' That's not my mindset. I've told you guys (media) that.
"My mindset is to serve this team as the backup quarterback as best I can and play efficient football and winning football in this situation to keep us in contention. So, whenever he takes back over we're in position to make a playoff run."
Although entirely unselfish about it, McCown did think about the possibility it could have been his final start.
"For me, it is week to week and obviously I'm in practice and I see (Cutler's) progress and monitor that and you know I understand every week if my number is called I have to be ready to go," he said. "So that's how it has been and we're ready for him to get back as quickly as possible; hopefully he is healing up and that will happen soon.
"For right now, I am serving my team, as I said before, as a backup quarterback and ready to go."
The Bears insist no quarterback controversy exists, but with a return by a rusty or not fully recovered Cutler on Sunday at Cleveland, to go with a handful of quarterback mistakes in a loss, and it could very well finish serious playoff talk if not generate a good deal of Monday morning discussion.
--WR Brandon Marshall went over the 1,000-yard receiving barrier for the seventh straight season with a 100-yard night that leaves him at 1,090 yards.
--RB Matt Forte had 102 yards rushing to reach 1,073, his fourth 1,000-yard season. Walter Payton is the only Bears back who had more. Forte also had 73 receiving yards for 518 on the year, marking his second time over 1,000 yards rushing and over 500 yards receiving. No other back in team history, including Payton, has had two seasons of 1,000 and 500.
--S Major Wright returned from a hamstring pull and made four tackles to help bolster a sagging defense.
--DT Stephen Paea left Monday's game because of a toe injury that has been bothering him most of the season.
PASSING OFFENSE: A-plus -- They made the big plays, like Alshon Jeffery's 25-yard leaping touchdown catch with 10 seconds left in the first half, while also playing consistently, as 8-of-11 third-down conversions shows. They mixed it up well, with WR Earl Bennett catching a touchdown pass, and even TE Dante Rosario and RB Michael Bush catching passes. Despite potentially disruptive pass rushers, QB Josh McCown got sacked just once for a 7-yard loss, and that came near the end of the game at mop-up time. Overall, it was the most complete performance to date by the Bears offense, but must be tempered by the fact it came against the league's worst defense.
RUSHING OFFENSE: A -- Even Bush had running room for a change and averaged 4.8 yards per carry. Forte got outside as well as inside, and the backs consistently picked up yardage rather than getting one big chunk and then a lot of zero or negative gains. With 149 yards on 32 carries, their longest run was just 18 yards. Run blocking downfield by wide receivers was solid again, with Marshall getting one pancake on a McCown scramble.
PASS DEFENSE: B-plus -- One of the surprises of the night, as the Bears threw an A-gap, B-gap blitz at Tony Romo on a couple occasions to disrupt third-down attempts, and came up with two key sacks. Finding a way to rush the passer while also protecting up front against the run has been a problem for the young, inexperienced, injury-riddled defensive front. At least in this game, they managed to do one of those well. Holding Romo to a season-low 104 yards passing is at least partly the byproduct of Dallas not respecting the run defense and running it 28 times, but when the Cowboys chose to throw, they couldn't.
RUSH DEFENSE: D-minus - The Bears came out on their heels as DeMarco Murray rolled up 99 of his 146 yards before halftime. The run fits appeared off and on several occasions when they did get multiple tacklers to the ball, they still gave up 5 or more yards when nobody actually made the tackle. It wasn't a case of the run defense finally improving as it was Dallas failing to keep up with the high-scoring Bears offense and giving up the run to pass.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B -- It's hard to give punter Adam Podlesh a bad grade when he didn't even get called on to punt, since the Bears scored on eight of their nine possessions and the last possession was a one-play, kneel-down. Devin Hester had a key 19-yard punt return at the end of the first half to set up the ball at the Bears 40 and make possible Jeffery's touchdown catch with 10 seconds remaining. Gould bounced back from a key overtime field goal miss the previous week to make all three field goals in rough weather.
COACHING: B-plus - Defensive schemes found ways to overcome the deficiencies at stopping the run, while everything the Bears tried worked on offense. More than devising a scheme to overcome Dallas on both sides of the ball, this one was more about the coaching staff's ability to raise the entire team back up after a devastating loss to Minnesota that could have left them for dead in the race. They met the challenge.