As the 2013 season approaches the Chicago Bears front office seems to have accepted the risk of playing through another season with the lack of a proven back-up quarterback. After two consecutive seasons, in 2010 and 2011, smeared with ineffective back-up quarterback play, the Bears appeared to have addressed the issue when they signed free-agent Jason Campbell for the 2012 season. However, Campbell’s play was not as good as the Bears had counted on and decided not to bring him back this season, instead turning to Josh McCown for his 2nd stint with the Bears as a back-up. Now the team is once again in familiar territory as they approach the start of a new season without a reassuring back-up quarterback in place.
In 2010, following an 11-5 division champion season, the Bears saw their playoff run come to an end in the NFC Championship game vs the Green Bay Packers when starting quarterback Jay Cutler did not return to play the 2nd half due to a knee injury. Cutler struggled early in the game, but was unable to lead his team in an attempt for a comeback in the 2nd half. The Bears hopes fell to Todd Collins and Caleb Hanie. Collins’ play was horrible and he was quickly replaced by Hanie, whose play was decent, however, simply not good enough. Hanie threw a TD pass to Earl Bennett in the 4th quarter, but surrendered 2 interceptions, one of which was the icing for the Packers as BJ Raji gobbled up the easy pick-six, ending the Bears’ hopes and their season.
A year later with a strong 7-3 start, the Bears slipped out of play-off contention losing five straight games en route to a tepid 8-8 record following a freak thumb injury to starter Jay Cutler. In the 30-21 victory over San Diego, Cutler injured the thumb of his throwing hand when attempting to tackle Charger’s Antoine Cason following an interception. Although Cutler continued to play in the game completing his last 2 passes in the final drive, the injury proved costly to the Bears who could not salvage victories in their next five games. Caleb Hanie struggled in contests vs Oakland, Kansas City, Denver, and Seattle, which at the time would have normally been considered winnable games with Cutler under center.
In an emergency move, Bears’ then-GM Jerry Angelo signed Josh McCown who had been released by the 49ers earlier in the season. After spending the first 4 years of his career with the Arizona Cardinals, he had been tossed around making his way through Detroit, Oakland, Carolina, Hartford of the UFL, and San Francisco before finally settling in with Chicago. McCown started the final two games of the 2011 season for Chicago completing 19 of 28 passes for 242 yards with 1 TD and 2 INTs in a 35-21 losing performance in Green Bay on Christmas; and then closing out the season with the Bears’ 8th and final victory in a 17-13 win in Minnesota completing 15 of 25 passes for 160 yards with 1 TD and 1 INT.
Last year, in 2012, the Bears and new GM Phil Emery hoped they had addressed the back-up quarterback problem with the free-agent signing of Jason Campbell. His services were called upon vs the Houston Texans, when Cutler was unable to return to the game in the 2nd half following a concussion, but Campbell was mostly ineffective in a sloppy, rainy, defensive struggle with the Bears falling short 13-6. Campbell started the following contest in San Francisco, which also featured Colin Kaepernick’s first official start, in a 32-7 spanking where Campbell managed only 107 passing yards with 1 TD and 2 INTs. Cutler returned in the next game vs Minnesota and played out the remainder of the season to help the Bears finish with a 10-6 record, however failing to clinch a playoff spot.
On the surface it appears that current GM Phil Emery has taken the same approach this season as his predecessor had done in years past with regards to the back-up quarterback position. The hope, of course, is that Jay Cutler can remain healthy throughout the season, and coupled with new headcoach Marc Trestman can reach higher levels of performance and the success which follows. However, the glaring difference between previous and current management is the hope to keep the starting quarterback healthy has become the expectation to keep the QB healthy.
By re-enforcing the offensive line through free-agent signings of left tackle Jermon Bushrod and guard Matt Slauson, as well as selecting Kyle Long in the 1st round (20th overall) in this year’s draft, the Bears have overhauled one of the worst offensive lines in football. The off-season acquisitions should help Jay Cutler stay upright more often and help improve the passing game overall. But as is often the case in football: freak, untimely accidents can occur, and as with previous years, the fate of the Chicago Bears’ season could once again rest in the hands of the back-up quarterback.