Backup QB McCown had started the last four games and performed surprisingly well. Yet the Bears opted to pull the reins from his hands and give the starting job back to Cutler, who tossed two picks early Sunday, including one returned for a touchdown, before bouncing back with three scoring strikes to lead Chicago to victory.
Despite relinquishing the starting job, McCown called Sunday perhaps his proudest moment working with Cutler.
"There was a lot swirling around this thing, building up to this week," McCown said. "You try to block it out as much as possible, but you understand it's out there. At the same time, we were focused on just getting this game. Understanding everything around it, then to start the way he did, I'm just very, very proud of him, man. Proud to call him my teammate, proud to call him our quarterback, and proud to call him my friend. What he did, just the resolve and the toughness to do what he did today is probably one of the most proud moments I've had this whole year."
"I'm just very, very proud of him, man," Josh McCown said of Jay Cutler. "Proud to call him my teammate, proud to call him our quarterback, and proud to call him my friend."
With McCown winning two of his four starts filling in as the starter and throwing for 1,271 yards and nine touchdowns with only one interception for a passer rating of 109.8 (No. 3 in the NFL), there was speculation about whether the backup was actually the better option for the Bears. The debate gained intensity Thursday when Bears coach Marc Trestman named Cutler the starter for Sunday's matchup.
Cutler's first offensive series against the Browns resulted in an interception to Tashaun Gipson on a pass intended for Brandon Marshall. In the second quarter, Cutler tossed another pick to Gipson, who returned it 44 yards for a touchdown to give Cleveland a 10-3 lead.
"I told him he was gonna be alright," McCown said. "It's just silly things happen. You're off a little bit, or the receiver's off. Things happen, and it's not what happened as much as how you respond to what happened. That's why I'm so proud of him. Him and the other 10 guys in that huddle rallied around that and said, ‘You know what, we're gonna be fine.' And we found a way to get it done."
By the time the first half came to a close, Cutler had completed 13-of-19 for 168 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions, to go with a passer rating of 73.9. Cutler hit Marshall for a 5-yard touchdown with 24 seconds left before intermission to tie the score 10-10 at the half.
When Cutler struggled early, McCown never wondered if Trestman would turn back to him over the starter.
"I believed in him 100 percent," McCown said. "He's the starting quarterback for us because he can do those sorts of things. He can pull himself out of that. He's that mentally tough. So I knew it was just a matter of time. It's been a while since he played. He got to settle back in and was ready to roll."
As Cutler prepped in front of his locker to face the media for a postgame press conference, McCown stood in front of the starting quarterback, helping to adjust his tie.
McCown entered Sunday leading the NFL with a Total QBR of 85.7. He'd thrown 13 TDs and only one INT in five starts and portions of two other games. He completed 36 passes on Nov. 24 to set the franchise single-game pass completion record, and he passed for 300 yards or more in each of the last three games, in addition to holding the franchise's highest single-season passer rating.
But in this moment, McCown had been relegated back to a reserve role. He was fine it.
"[Cutler is] a mentally tough dude, I just kept encouraging him. We all have his back," McCown said. "It was just a matter of him getting a couple of plays going and some positive things happening. I knew he would be fine. I'm so proud of him. I'm probably more proud today than any game this year. What he did was so cool."