To say former Bears quarterback Josh McCown's NFL journey has been a long and strange one is an extreme understatement.
McCown, who is celebrating his 37th birthday today (born July 4, 1979), is best known to Chicago fans for the magical season he had in 2013, when stepped in for an injured Jay Cutler and put up a 109 passer rating, the best 5-game stretch of his career.
His rise to 2013 prominence began without any fanfare. McCown had earned the backup spot by being better than an undistinguished cast of not-even-mediocre QB backups Chicago had tried in recent years.
In the seventh game of the season, starter Jay Cutler pulled a groin muscle. That game was a wild affair, and featured a late drive by the offense and McCown. McCown hit Martellus Bennett for a 7-yard score to give the bears a late 41-38 lead, but the hideously bad Bears D could not hold the lead and Chicago fell at Washington.
Following the Bear's bye in week 8, McCown led Chicago into the land of the Cheeseheads. In what would turn out to be a "battle of the backup QB" following Shea McClellan's knockout sack of Aaron Rodgers, McCown entirely outplayed Packers backup Seneca Wallace and brought home a much needed 27-20 win over the hated Pack.
Nothing will make a man a hero in Chicago quicker than beating the Packers at Green Bay, and Josh McCown attained instant cult status. His newfound celebrity was a big change for a journeyman QB who many considered a career bust before his time in Chicago.
Here's a recap of what we were thinking here at WCG following that game - The Bears Den: November 05, 2013 - Week 10 news and notes - Windy City Gridiron
There was nothing in his pedigree that made him a "can't miss" prospect coming out of NCAA ball.
In college, McCown left SMU after three years and went to pass-happy Houston State as a senior to show scouts that he could thrive in a vertical offense. He was drafted in the third round, number 81 overall, by Arizona. In Arizona, he started as Jake Plumber's backup under coach Dennis "The Bears Are Who We Thought They Were" Green. He played 14 games in 2004 for Arizona, passing for 2,511 yard and 11 TDs with 10 INTs.
After being released from Arizona, he signed with Detroit, where he got on the field primarily as a WR. Detroit traded him to Oakland, where he played a total of 7 games in 2007, with 10 TDs, 11 INTs and a passer rating of 69.4.
Oakland traded McCown to Carolina in 2008 for a 7th rounder, and McCown sat on John Fox's bench in Carolina and was only in games in kneel down situations. Following one year in Carolina, McCown found himself entirely out of the NFL.
He signed with the Hartford Colonials of the short-lived United Football League, where he lit up the Sacramento Mountain Lions. In that first game, the first contest of the season, McCown was named the league "Offensive Player Of The Week". He ended up leading the league in yardage for the season.
In his last stop before Chicago, McCown had a late-camp cup-of-coffee with the 49ers, being released in the final cut-down in 2011.
McCown was signed by Chicago in November of 2011 The Bears were in full-on backup-quarterback dumpster-fire mode. McCown beat out the terrible Caleb Hanie, starting two games. Josh managed a combined total of 414 yards for the season with a passer rating of 68.3, good enough to earn him a 2012 one-year contract with Chicago. After a summer-long training camp battle, McCown was waived by the team in August. Chicago brought McCown back later in the season when Jay Cutler suffered a concussion. McCown did not appear in any games that season.
In 2013, Chicago signed McCown to a one-year minimum-contract (a move that would end up costing the team a chance to re-sign McCown early). Following his win at Green Bay, McCown was the talk of the town.
Jay Cutler returned to the lineup in Detroit, but it was obvious to all observers he was still suffering the effects of his groin injury plus an ankle ailment. Cutler lead Chicago in the 21-19 home loss to the hated Lions, a game that also featured the season-ending triceps injury to Charles Tillman. November 10 was a dark day for the beloved.
With Cutler injured and unable to move in the pocket or plant his feet to through, McCown started week 11 against Baltimore, leading Chicago to a 23-20 win over the Ravens. McCown was 19 of 31, 1 TD and no INTs with a passer rating of 92.9, and he visibly looked better in the pocket and especially on the run than Cutler had the previous week. Chicago fans were in full-on grumble-grumble-grumble mode about whether Cutler should be the starter for the rest of the season when he returned healthy.
Week 12 at St. Louis was a complete disaster for the Chicago Bears defense, which fell apart against a team with a mediocre offense. McCown and Brandon Marshall were, by far, the two bright spots of the day for Chicago, with Marshall pulling down 10 of 12 McCown targets for 117 yards. McCown overall was 36 of 47 for 352 and two TDs for a passer rating of 102. The Rams were able to pick McCown once for the only INT he would throw in 2013.
Chicago fell again in Week 13 despite another huge game by McCown and Alshon Jeffery's career day. Alshon caught 12 of his 15 McCown targets for an astonishing 249 yards, with a long of 80. McCown and Jeffery hooked up for 2 TDs and McCown completed 23 of 36 passes for 355 yards and a passer rating of 114.9.
Week 14 against Dallas saw another huge day for McCown, Jeffery and Marshall. In a 45-28 drubbing of the Cowboys, McCown lit up the Dallas D repeatedly, firing four TD strikes with no picks, making the 'Boys defense resemble the second coming of the Sacramento Mountain Lions. McCown was 27 of 36 for 348 yards and a passer rating of a whopping 141.9.
By this time in the season, the wolves in Chicago were howling that McCown should remain the Bears starter for the rest of the season. Inside Halas Hall, however, there apparently was no controversy in the mind of then Chicago coach Marc Trestman. Trestman started Jay Cutler at Cleveland in week 15.
To his credit, McCown did not add to that controversy off the field. He told the Chicago Tribune "The way that I serve my team is to play when the starter is not healthy. Jay is our starting quarterback, there is no doubt about that."
Cutler lead Chicago to a 38-31 win over Cleveland. Jay played decently, hitting 22 of 31 for 265 and 3 TDs, but he also suffered two INTs including a pick-6. Cutler's performance, while good enough to beat a bad Cleveland team, did little to quiet the calls for a change in starting quarterbacks coming from a the fans and the media. The Bears also leapfrogged into first place in the division when Detroit lost to Philly, setting up a championship showdown game against Green Bay.
Week 17 in 2013 is a game that will haunt Bears fans for years to come, due not to the play of the starting QB (Cutler was a respectable 15 for 24, two TDs, one INT on a game-ending Hail Mary attempt, PR of 103.8) but rather the outrageously bad officiating and by Chris Conte missing Mel Tucker's blitz call, gifting the playoff spot to the Bears' most bitter foe.
It was after the season ended that McCown's one-year vet-minimum deal came back to haunt Chicago. Due to the technicalities of the contract system in the NFL, teams cannot negotiate early with players they sign to vet minimum contracts. Had Chicago signed McCown to a deal one dollar over the vet minimum, they could have negotiated early... however, they also would have had to face a significantly higher cap hit for McCown (the technical strangeness of the NFL cap and contract system is beyond the scope of this article). Chicago, therefore, was forced to sit on the sidelines and watch McCown walk in free agency. To be fair, it's hard to imagine any team offering the kind of money McCown signed for to procure the services of a backup.
There is no question that 2013 was McCown's career year to date. He played in 8 games, had a 66.5 completion percentage, 13 TDs vs 1 INT and a passer rating of 109 for the season.
Josh hit free agency a hot target for teams in need of a quarterback, and financially McCown turned his big year into big cash. Tampa signed him to a two-year, $10 million deal, with $6.25 million guaranteed.
McCown went to Tampa as the clear starter in Lovie Smith's offense, where his performance promptly fell off a cliff. Behind an offensive line that was one of the worst in the NFL, McCown was smothered and knocked out in the season's third game.
Replaced by Mike Glennon in a 56-16 demolition by Atlanta, he sat recovering as Glennon led the team to a 1-4 record before returning as the starter. McCown was released by Tampa following his ineffective season. He finished with a passer rating of 70.5, a completion percentage of 56.3, 11 TDs and 14 INTs.
In 2015, he signed with Cleveland to be the caretaker starter in front of Johnny Manziel. McCown completely outplayed Johnny Football, in eight games he hit on 67.3 percent of his passes, had 12 TDs vs 4 INTs, and a 93.3 passer rating.
He returns to Cleveland this season in a battle for playing time against newly acquired RGIII.
Many Chicago fans are left to wonder if McCown just caught magic in a bottle for a few games in 2013, or if with the proper talent around him if he could have taken Chicago to the next level. However, it's hard to argue the decision of a then 35-year-old journeyman QB to leave Chicago for $6.25 million dollars in guaranteed money.
As McCown battles it out for playing time in Cleveland, he will be cheered on by the many Chicago fans that he earned one cold Monday night in November, standing tall and delivering a win at Lambeau Field.