The Chicago Bears probably aren't ready to take that leap just yet. Still, they have to be feeling good about their backup quarterback and their chances.
A 27-20 win at Green Bay on Monday night after dropping three of four games vaulted the Bears into a tie for the NFC North lead with the Packers and Detroit, and they can really assert themselves with a victory over the Lions at Soldier Field on Sunday.
A big reason for that was their backup quarterback.
McCown did not put up eye-popping numbers, going 22 for 41 with 272 yards, but he gave the Bears (5-3) exactly what they needed with Cutler nursing a groin injury.
He threw two touchdowns without an interception in his first start since 2011 and spread the ball around to Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery and Matt Forte. He also led an 18-play, 80-yard drive in the fourth quarter that lasted just under 9 minutes and ended with a field goal as the Bears got their first victory at Lambeau Field since 2007.
Most of all, McCown commanded the offense like a starter and was in control from the beginning.
''He's got a lot of energy in the huddle,'' center Roberto Garza said. ''We have to calm him down every once in a while because he starts screaming a little bit and we don't want the defense hearing the plays. We have a lot of fun. He did a great job of leading us.''
If nothing else, McCown is a reliable option for the Bears while their starter recuperates.
The team initially said Cutler would be sidelined at least a month and then be evaluated on a week-to-week basis after he suffered a muscle tear in his groin during a loss to Washington on Oct. 20. But the door for an early return is open.
Cutler said last week that he hopes to be back sooner while Marshall said the ''worst-case scenario'' would have him returning against the Lions. Trestman said after Monday's game that the team will assess Cutler's progress on Wednesday and that the doctors will decide when he comes back.
If Cutler is ready for Detroit, he will have missed just one game, with the Bears off last week. But he's not sure he will be available.
''Can't tell you,'' he told Chicago's WMVP-AM 1000 on Tuesday. ''I wish I could. I wish I could say, 'Yeah, we'll be out there.' But I think the way that Josh is playing, we feel good about that.''
McCown's solid outing came on the heels of an impressive showing in a loss to Washington. He completed 14 of 20 passes for 204 yards after Cutler went down in that game, and he now has 476 yards and three touchdowns without an interception.
It helps that he has big targets in Marshall, Jeffery and tight end Martellus Bennett. None of them were around in 2011, when Cutler missed the final six games with a broken thumb and the Bears crashed after a promising start.
Back then, Caleb Hanie struggled in a big way. The Bears wound up signing McCown, who was coaching high school football. Against the Packers, he was hardly a one-man show.
''First, it was a great job by the O-line,'' Forte said. ''We've got to protect the quarterback in order for him to throw the ball and we picked up a lot of their blitzes and they handled them up front in the running game real well. Josh did a great job back there of reading his keys and hit the checkdown a couple of times.''
Forte had a huge game, running for 125 yards and a TD. He also converted fourth-and-1 and third-and-5 runs on that long, late drive and finished with 54 yards receiving.
Marshall had seven catches for 107 yards and a score, and Jeffery had five receptions for 60 yards, including a 6-yarder for the go-ahead touchdown at the end of the third quarter.
It didn't hurt, either, that the Bears got their pass rush going and knocked Aaron Rodgers out of the game early with a shoulder injury. That happened early on a sack by Shea McClellin - one of three for him. Julius Peppers, mostly ineffective to this point, added a sack and an interception.
Corey Wootton had a sack, and the defense made enough plays to come away with a win on a night when the Bears could have been all but buried.
It might have turned out differently for Chicago had Rodgers not been injured, forcing the Packers to go with Seneca Wallace. But the Bears can at least breathe a little easier.
''It's a big win, a division win,'' McClellin said. ''We've still got half the season left, so we've got a long way to go.''
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