Josh McCown is much more prepared to lead the Bears into Lambeau Field on Monday night against the Green Bay Packers than the last time he had that mission.
That was Christmas Day 2011.
A week earlier he had thrown his first NFL pass in more than two years, mopping up for Caleb Hanie in a 38-14 blowout loss to the Seattle Seahawks. It was the Bears' fourth straight loss following the season-ending wrist injury to Jay Cutler a month earlier, which hastened the signing of McCown.
At the time, McCown was coaching high school football in Charlotte, N.C., after being out of football in 2010 and most of 2011. It was McCown's first start in four years and two days.
"I remember that we lost, that would be first thing," McCown said of the 35-21 defeat. "I just remember walking out of that tunnel in Lambeau, and (thinking) 'Man, just six weeks ago I was jogging out on the field against Charlotte Catholic to coach high school kids.' I just remember feeling like, 'This is just another game.' So hopefully, it'll be the same thing."
McCown was picked off twice in that Packers game, but also threw a TD pass and completed 19 of 28 passes for 242 yards.
This time around, an entire off-season and training camp have provided the 34-year-old McCown with a better base. Last week's open date for the Bears and the days off that accompanied it came at an opportune time for a quarterback transitioning from backup to starter after Cutler's groin injury.
Coach Marc Trestman gave the team last week off, but they still have extra preparation time for the Packers. Because they didn't play last Sunday and their game isn't until Monday night, the Bears practiced Monday and Tuesday this week, which usually are off days in a normal week.
"It was good to have extra days to get into a rhythm with the guys and get some extra work with the receivers," said McCown, who also benefited from the time away, reuniting with his wife and four children (ages 6-15), back home in Charlotte.
"Anybody in here with family knows it stinks to be away from them," McCown said. "That's no fun, especially (Thursday) because they're out trick or treating. My wife is a stud; she's awesome. She's going to make the trip Monday and drive up to Lambeau and bring my two boys, so that's special for me.
"We understand this phase of my career and where we are in life. We feel like we're in a good situation to be able to handle it for both of us, but it hasn't been easy. It's a credit to her."
In addition to having support from his family at Lambeau, McCown will have better resources at his disposal than he did two years ago. Wide receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, along with tight end Martellus Bennett, were not on that 2011 team. They have combined for 111 catches, 1,457 yards and 11 touchdowns this season.
Coach Marc Trestman says the best resource McCown has is his supporting cast, which helped him throw for 204 yards and post a 119.6 passer rating against Washington in Week Seven after Cutler was hurt.
"He's got to utilize the 10 guys around him," Trestman said. "That's a positive, just knowing that the guys around him are there to help, and he doesn't have to carry the weight of the football team -- nor does any guy.
"He's just got to do his job, be efficient and take care of the football. When he's got an opportunity to make a play, he should make it. If he's got a chance to run, he can run. He certainly was very important on most of those drives in the Washington game."
McCown scrambled four times for 33 yards against Washington, but he has to be judicious with his risk-taking, considering the only quarterback left to play is Jordan Palmer, who has only been with the team since last week.
"I've got to be mindful of that," McCown said. "You've got to be able to play the game and compete but also understand that Jordan's been here two weeks. The best thing is to stay healthy and be smart when we're running."
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