That chill down Jay Cutler’s spine Tuesday morning isn’t a consequence of spending four hours on the sideline as the 13 degree wind chill factor froze his limbs. It was paralyzing anxiety from watching Josh McCown heave the football and toss the Cowboys defense off the primetime stage like Akon does to unruly fans.
Did you see Josh McCown's impossible completion to Alshon Jeffrey in the back of the end zone? If you didn't here you go. It's one part Godzilla in Tokyo with his long arms and delicate balance with his feet.
It was reminiscent of another epic McCown throw. The only iconic play of his career.
McCown’s pro career has come full-circle in the decade since he reached the pinnacle of his career as a 24-year-old making his third start against the Minnesota Vikings. Ten years ago, the Bears quarterback rolled outside the pocket, waited, waited, waited, then drilled a tight pass into the hands of Nate Poole in the back of the end zone on the final play of a lost season that was salvaged by inflicting pain upon the Minnesota Vikings.
It was one of the most exciting plays I’d seen in my burgeoning football fandom. The catch also signified the final NFL touchdown Poole would catch, capped off the Vikings collapse from 6-0 Super Bowl contender to 9-7 playoff spectator, propelled Green Bay into the playoffs and more importantly, changed the arc of destiny for two franchises.
The butterfly effect from the Cardinals’ pyrrhic Week 17 victory included them dropping their first overall pick in the 2004 NFL Draft to the No. 4 pick that produced Eli Manning.
Two years later, Poole would play his final NFL game against the Chicago Bears, which brings us to Monday night.
Success was fleeting for McCown. For an entire decade, McCown faded into the ether, packing up his bags and hitchhiking as a nomadic quarterback gun-for-hire from town to town. He probably lived in hotels—no motels, including a few stops in Austin, Texas while living off the land and Ramen Noodles.
The hiring of noted quarterback shaman Marc Trestman’s as the Bears head coach last spring was intended to signal a seminal moment in Cutler’s development as a pro quarterback.
Cutler's pro career has been built on the back of one breakout season in Denver. In his last three seasons, Cutler’s thrown 45 touchdowns and 29 interceptions.
Monday night illuminated a shocking development: Trestman’s voodoo quarterback powers misfired and accidentally imbued McCown with preternatural quarterbacking skills that exceeded our previous expectations for his natural skill potential. The former pipsqueak backup quarterback has transformed into a giant in the pocket.
McCown seems to have stolen extra-strength doses of Rich Gannon's mystical career-reviving elixir. Since taking over the starting job in Chicago, McCown has been Chicago's Monstar of the Midway.
Peyton is King, but Josh McCown is Prince of the QBR pic.twitter.com/C2hWvI4ul7— DJ RedHerring Dunson (@CerebralSportex) December 10, 2013
The only person sweating harder than Monte Kiffin this week is Cutler’s agent. A few months ago, Cutler had momentum towards gaining membership into the $100 million Tax Bracket QB Club with Trestman’s help. Instead, he has thrown 13 touchdowns to eight interceptions, held onto the ball far too long in the pocket, forced the ball into far into more dangerous crevices than Aron Ralston and been ravaged by lower body injuries.
McCown is making $865,000 to throw 13 touchdowns and one interception. This is not Kyle Orton going 10-5 as Rex Grossman’s replacement in 2005 or Colin Kaepernick deposing Alex Smith.
McCown’s been around the block, but on this leg of his journey his arm and decision making look vastly improved.
This week, Trestman is lodged between a rock and a hard place. In year’s past, the offensive line made for an appropriate scapegoat to explain Cutler’s deficiencies. Other backups have struggled in the pocket for Chicago, but McCown’s success has been a combination of the right time and right coach.
For one season in Arizona, McCown had Anquan Boldin and rookie Larry Fitzgerald split out wide in the Cardinals offense. This season, he’s got Jeffrey and Brandon Marshall going sky high for his throws. The irony of Jeffrey's emergence in Chicago opposite Marshall is that he was acquired with a pick Dallas originally traded to St. Louis so they could move up for cornerback Morris Claiborne. Claiborne was out on Monday night nursing a hamsting injury.
On the flipside, the Cowboys defense has been a bigger joke than Tune Land. One night after Rob Ryan’s A-Team put the Carolina Panthers in a musty headlock, the NFL’s 28th ranked pass defense and 32nd ranked pass defense got exposed like Anthony Weiner. It's not all on Jason Garrett though. Garrett had no say in the hiring of Monte Kiffin and defensive line coach Rod Marinelli. That was Jerry Jones' master plan.
Just a little visual aid for the Cowboys. Apparently D-Line coach Rod Marinelli uses them to illustrate his points pic.twitter.com/8W7nIAQj6I— DJ RedHerring Dunson (@CerebralSportex) December 10, 2013
Here’s the abridged version.
Last one, I promise. pic.twitter.com/zmmnul8gLH— DJ RedHerring Dunson (@CerebralSportex) December 10, 2013
Cutler is prepping to make his return this season and Trestman has adamantly denied that he's has been displaced as the starter. Eventually McCown may come back to Earth, but he's reached a higher altitude than Cutler ever climbed to. If Cutler is still set on taking up so much of their salary cap next season, Chicago may want to consider riding the McCown wave until the magic runs out.