If there's any cause for optimism around Halas Hall during a season in which critical injuries continue to mount, it's that backup quarterback Josh McCown was exceptional on Sunday in relief of Jay Cutler, who will be out a minimum of four weeks and possibly longer.
Details on Cutler's injury weren't provided Monday, except for coach Marc Trestman categorizing it as "a significant groin injury," and one that will keep him out "at least four weeks," after which time he will be "week-to-week." In NFL speak, that usually means at least a couple more weeks.
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"He's disappointed he was injured," Trestman said. "He was in a good frame of mind (Monday). He was very reasonable but certainly very disappointed."
Cutler suffered a torn groin on a sack early in the second quarter and left the field in obvious pain. McCown tried his best to make it all better for the Bears with the second-best performance of his 11-year NFL career.
But the 24 points he and the Bears offense put up in the second half weren't enough to offset a putrid effort by a porous defense that is on pace to be the worst in franchise history.
And to make matters worse on that side of the ball, seven-time Pro Bowl linebacker Lance Briggs is out six weeks with a fractured shoulder suffered in the third quarter of the 45-41 defeat.
Neither Cutler nor Briggs will require surgery.
McCown posted a 119.6 passer rating while completing 14 of 20 passes for 208 yards. Despite pressure, he was sacked just once, and he scampered for 33 yards on 4 scrambles.
"That's part of our optimism here," said coach Marc Trestman, who put on a brave face despite the reality of a 4-3 team that looks to be trending downward and has serious injury concerns. "Our football team feels that it can rally around Josh. And he's going to put us in a position to win games. I think that was clear (Sunday)."
The transition from Cutler to McCown against Washington was seamless, and the offense actually moved better behind the veteran backup after Cutler's rocky start. McCown's performance was impressive considering he has taken virtually no practice reps with the first team since the regular season started.
Now the 34-year-old McCown will get all of the first-team snaps, and combined with his experience and athleticism, Trestman doesn't believe he'll have to change the offense much.
"Quite frankly, I don't see any difference at all," the Bears' coach said. "Josh's game management, his anticipation to get the ball to the right place at the right time was very good."
McCown spent time with the Bears in each of the last two seasons, signing in November after injuries to Cutler. This past off-season was his first with the Bears, so he felt well prepared, even though he hadn't played in a game since starting the final two of the 2011 season after Cutler injured his wrist and reserve Caleb Hanie failed to move the team.
"I talk with Marc (Trestman) all the time about being fearless as a playcaller and just going out there and calling it," McCown said. "I encourage him, and he's always mindful of that. When it was my turn to step in there, (I said) 'Hey, let's keep it that way. I'll play that way if you call it that way.'
"Him and (quarterbacks) coach (Matt) Cavanaugh do such a good job of getting us prepared. There was no real anxiety going into the game because of the way that we prepare. It's a credit to those two guys."
Veteran backup Jordan Palmer, who played impressively for the Bears in the final preseason game before being waived in the final cutdown, will back up McCown until Cutler returns, provided he passed a physical scheduled for late Monday. Palmer was signed in mid-August after then-No. 3 quarterback Matt Blanchard suffered a fractured left hand. The 29-year-old Palmer completed 11 of 17 passes for 111 yards against Cleveland in a preseason test.
"Based on what he did in the training camp and the preseason, he became very (fluent) in our offensive language very quickly," Trestman said. "He impressed us. He was very efficient running the offense when he was in there on very short notice."
Never has a team needed its off week more than the Bears need it this week. Players are off until next Monday, when they begin preparing for a night game a week later against the Packers in Green Bay.
"It's an uphill battle," McCown said. "You lose a leader like Jay, a leader like Lance, it's a blow to your team. You've just got to get ready to play. There are going to be people stepping up on the defensive side of the ball. I'll have to step up on the offensive side of the ball, and we'll have to find a way to get it done."
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