Who's No. 1?

Who should start on Sunday?


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McCown did his job -- nothing more

Isaacson By Melissa Isaacson

Why is it that the mere suggestion Jay Cutler should be re-inserted into the Chicago Bears' lineup as soon as he is medically cleared somehow the same as insulting Josh McCown's ability as a quarterback and everything he has ever stood for?

Cutler is the Bears' starter. McCown is the backup and ideally is supposed to do just what he has done -- a good enough job to keep the Bears in the playoff hunt, a goal that is hardly a given.

McCown has been good more often than not in the five games in which he has started for Cutler. He was terrific Monday night against the Dallas Cowboys' defense, which re-defined awful and made the Bears' defense look almost solid by comparison.

I can't believe this argument has to be made, but even considering McCown's touchdown pass to Alshon Jeffery, Cutler's arm is better, stronger, more reliable. In fact, using Jeffery's two end zone catches the past two games as a reason for why McCown should take over for Cutler is a bad one, because both of those plays were much more a testament to Jeffery's ability.

Taking that a step further, McCown has had the benefit of playing against depleted defenses with the best receiving corps in the league and one of the best running backs in an offense clearly rounding into form. Cutler played in the system's early stages and, lest we forget, was playing well.

So why in the world would we not want to see Cutler continue to get more experience and develop under Marc Trestman's system?

We all love McCown, who does not lose games for you and is a genuinely nice, humble guy. But if you are considering him as your next starter, even for one season, he should still be judged by the standard in which all quarterbacks should be judged -- can he lead his team to a Super Bowl title? And yes, I know, Cutler has exactly two playoff appearances in his eight-year career. But if the Bears were playing one game for the title, you honestly want McCown over Cutler?

The financial argument against re-signing Cutler is a worthy one. But to discard him because his backup did the job he is paid to do? Not good enough.

Injured starters leave lineups. Backups are expected to fill in adequately. And starters do not lose their jobs because of the previous sentence.

Melissa Isaacson is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.

It gets complicated if he's healthy

Dickerson By Jeff Dickerson

Jay Cutler deserves to start at quarterback when the Chicago Bears face the Cleveland Browns on Sunday as long as he receives medical clearance following a severe high-ankle sprain that has kept him on the sideline for the past four games.

The constant narrative coming out of Halas Hall since Cutler was injured Nov. 10 against the Washington Redskins was that when he is cleared to play, Cutler would reclaim his spot as the starter.

If the Bears dress Cutler as the No. 2 quarterback and allow Josh McCown to make his fifth consecutive start Sunday, it would fly in the face of everything the organization has publicly stated in the past month.

It would also be a credibility killer for coach Marc Trestman and the rest of the club's management team in the eyes of Cutler.

That would be the end of the Cutler era in Chicago. If the Bears were to make that move and announce they feel better with McCown at quarterback for the final playoff push, there is no undoing that decision.

Obviously, the Bears can withhold medical clearance from Cutler. But he did practice twice last week on a limited basis and legitimately seems close to being ready to play in a game. The short week after the Monday night game doesn't help Cutler, but if he practices without restrictions on Thursday, and the ankle responds well the next day, it would be hard to justify holding him out another week from an injury standpoint.

McCown has been unbelievable in 2013: 147-of-220 for 1,809 yards, 13 touchdowns, 1 interception and a passer rating of 109.8.

A strong argument can be made that McCown gives the Bears the best shot to qualify for the postseason.

But if the Bears had any doubts about which quarterback they preferred to close out the season, why did they emphatically declare that Cutler will A) play again this season, and B) be re-installed as the starter when the doctors sign off on it?

The Bears haven't left themselves with many options.

Jeff Dickerson covers the Bears for ESPNChicago.com.


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