Commentary

A picture of calm

McCown's poise on stormy afternoon leads Bears past Ravens for key win

Updated: November 18, 2013, 12:03 AM ET
By Jon Greenberg | ESPNChicago.com

CHICAGO -- As the plastic bags and disposable ponchos whirled over the stadium in the second half, with several touching down on the Soldier Field grass, one's mind turned to the dancing plastic bag in the movie "American Beauty."

[+] EnlargeSoldier Field
Scott Strazzante/Chicago Tribune/Getty ImagesA tornado watch was in effect when players and fans had to find shelter in the first quarter Sunday.
"Sometimes there's so much beauty in the world, I feel like I can't take it, and my heart is just going to cave in," the weird neighbor Ricky Fitts said of a wind-whipped plastic bag during one of the 1999 movie's pivotal scenes.

That's probably how the Bears felt when Josh McCown threw a 43-yard pass to Martellus Bennett that set up the winning Robbie Gould field goal in a 23-20 overtime victory over the Baltimore Ravens.

So much beauty in a well-thrown ball.

And victories don't come much prettier, especially for the battered, bruised and ultimately buoyant Bears.

The Detroit Lions lost to Pittsburgh on Sunday, so both teams have 6-4 records atop the NFC North, though Detroit has the head-to-head tiebreaker.

Dr. Franken-Trestman and his Monsters are alive, and thankfully, they didn't even need to get struck by lightning.

While the injury-riddled defense lost another starter in tackle Stephen Paea, and committed way too many penalties, they still managed to create takeaways and still managed to hold Baltimore to a game-tying field goal after it got as close to the Bears' 2-yard line with 23 seconds left in regulation.

The game wasn't pretty, and at one point, it seemed too foolish to play. Play was suspended with just less than 5 minutes left in the first quarter as the city was under a tornado watch. Fans had to evacuate their seats for crowded concourses and reporters in the press box were warned to stay away from the windows.

The storm was wild, with heavy rain and 80 mph winds. Downstate Peoria, Ill., was hit hard and twisters touched down in the far suburbs, and it felt like the end of the world on the shores of Lake Michigan.

The delay lasted almost two hours, and when it was over, the notoriously choppy Soldier Field, which couldn't be covered during the delay, turned into a dangerous muck.

"It was definitely some backyard football going on," said offensive lineman Kyle Long, who's a backyard football type of guy. "It was a lot of fun to play in those conditions. Even better to get out of here with a win."

Every player is affected by weather, but none more so than the quarterback. But McCown said he had been through it before.

"My senior year at Sam Houston State, which seems like a long time ago. We were down at Nicholls State, I believe it is, in Thibodaux, La., I think we were in the second or third quarter and we had a good one, 2½, 3 hours," McCown said. "It was a long delay. We were able to come out and get the win. Very similar. I kind of thought about that when we were in there."

Of course. We all remember that game.

As it turns out, McCown has a good memory. According to the school's website, his Bearkats survived a 2½-hour lightning delay and McCown threw the winning touchdown pass to with 5:18 left to seal a 35-32 win.

Not that memories of a big win in backwoods Cajun country helps much with the wind and the Ravens' defense in your face.

"It was definitely one of those days when you look across the field and [see] Joe Flacco, and look on the sideline and Jay's [Cutler] over there and I'm like can I borrow someone's arm?" McCown said.

He didn't need their arms.

At one point, McCown benefited because the Bears played it safe. As the bad weather returned in the third quarter, the Bears had eight plays, all runs.

"We could not throw the ball, any ball," coach Marc Trestman said of the third quarter. "We were very concerned about a flip, or even a screen pass."

In all, McCown completed 19 of 31 passes for 216 yards and one touchdown, a nifty 14-yard screen pass to Matt Forte on a planned audible call early in the fourth quarter.

Forte was clutch, running 18 times for 83 yards and caught five passes for 42 yards.

McCown didn't turn the ball over and the two sacks he took combined for one yard of lost yardage. In 10-plus quarters this season, he doesn't have a turnover.

In this game, the lack of turnovers were, of course, key. The Ravens' highly paid Super Bowl quarterback, Flacco, threw two interceptions, one that was returned for a touchdown by Bears defensive lineman David Bass. Flacco also recovered his own fumble on a sack on fourth-and-8 in the third quarter.

"There was a heightened sense of ball security," McCown said. "We wanted to get out of this thing on the plus side for turnovers."

If you want to know why Trestman is the Quarterback Whisperer, consider his sage pregame advice to McCown, who was making his second start of the season in what promised to be a wild game with days of forewarning about the storm.

"Marc made a comment, 'When it's breezy, swing easy,' before the game," McCown said. "It was funny because it's so true.

"So that was something that was in my mind as I was catching the ball and dropping back. Just trying to stay relaxed."

McCown made like a golfer navigating the British Open without a driver, or better yet, a backyard quarterback. Like that Brett Favre commercial, without the tight jeans.

The country strong quarterback made the safe throws and, most importantly, he made the big throw.

Trestman said the pass to Bennett was designed first as a slant to Brandon Marshall. They caught the Ravens on a blitz with a single-high safety. McCown saw the safety move to double Marshall, and found the coverage favoring a deep ball to Bennett down the right seam. Bennett went up and brought it down. Two plays later, Gould won the game with a 38-yard field goal.

"When the call came in, I looked at the sidelines and Jay's smiling and I'm kind of like, the wind is whipping and everything," McCown said. "We got the coverage we wanted and Martellus made an awesome play."

As I listened to McCown speak after the game, I stopped writing notes for a minute and took it in. He had me transfixed. I thought I was in a corny sports movie, especially with the pep talk he gave the offense before the Bennett play.

"We just talked about the opportunity," he said. "You have opportunities in life. And rare opportunities to do some special things. We were sitting in front of one of those today. To jog out there and have that in front of us, we had a chance to be special. The cool part about it was it was a chance to be special not individually, but to be special together."

Of that speech, McCown said, "I don't know if I'm talking to them as much as I'm talking to myself."

You can see the movie, can't you? The down-home veteran finding contentment in the comforts of a unique team. He replaces the cranky star quarterback, who gets hurt and finds some kind of peace in McCown's success. The genius coach, himself in a career resurrection, finds a perfect balance.

[+] EnlargeJosh McCown
Dennis Wierzbicki/USA TODAY SportsDespite his success, Josh McCown loudly maintains he is the backup quarterback filling in while Jay Cutler heals.
Call the Hallmark Channel, I can have a script treatment ready by Thanksgiving. I might have to make this game the Super Bowl or something, though. Poetic license and all that.

But this is reality. With every smart throw, McCown stirs up the anti-Cutler sentiment around the league and in the city.

McCown, who is close friends with the mercurial Cutler, wants none of it.

"I feel like, and I've said this over and over again, like I'm a backup quarterback on this team and the way I serve my team is to play when the starter's not healthy," he said. "So Jay's our starting quarterback, no doubt about that."

While McCown is content that he isn't the starter, he has certainly proved he can weather any storm, real or metaphorical.

The Bears have followed suit, as they keep finding ways to wade through bad conditions and come out intact.

With six games left, will we have a cinematic ending? Depends on the genre. But I'm ready for the third act.

Jon Greenberg

Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com. He has lived and worked in Chicago since 2003, and is a graduate of Ohio University and the University of Chicago.

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