Ultimately there was nothing quarterback Josh McCown could have done to retain the starting job for the Bears once Jay Cutler was healthy again.
And McCown is fine with that, which is one of the many reasons he's the ideal backup quarterback and the ideal teammate.
"Throughout this whole process, and certainly over the last few days, he's been excellent; he's been probably Jay's biggest supporter," coach Marc Trestman said of the 11-year veteran. "I called Jay (Wednesday) night, 8 o'clock, and Josh and he were working on the game plan at Jay's house. So that's the kind of support that Josh has given Jay throughout; and Jay (has) given Josh."
McCown could hardly have played better. Hardly anyone did. Only the Eagles' Nick Foles and the Broncos' Peyton Manning have higher passer ratings than McCown's 109.8.
"I'm proud of him," Cutler said. "There's no one in this building that deserves it more than he does. He's worked extremely hard his entire career. I think he knows he's in a really good position with the offensive talent we have and the coaching staff, and he's done a great job of taking advantage of it. He's maximized his opportunity, which is all you can ask a guy."
Most importantly, as McCown has always pointed out, he kept the Bears in the playoff race, going 3-2 as a starter and playing lights out in two stellar but futile relief appearances. Nevertheless, it's back to the bench for the reigning NFC offensive player of the week. He takes mixed feelings with him.
"I don't think I'd be here if I didn't want to play," McCown said. "You want guys on your team that want to be on the field. But also, you want guys on your team that know their roles and understand that. I understand my role on this team: it's the backup quarterback. If Jay is healthy, he's ready to go, I'll support him and help him as much as I can."
Like Cutler, McCown is a free agent at the end of the season.
Even though he's 34 and has spent most of his career as a backup, McCown's performance this season has probably made him a hotter commodity than he's ever been. He might be too expensive for the Bears to afford next year, especially if they decide to go all-in on Cutler.
It's possible the super sub has played his final down for the Bears. If so, he's going out on a high note, a near-perfect 141.9 passer rating in the Monday night victory.
"I don't really want to think about that right now," McCown said. "If that was my last game, then I guess I would be pleased with the fact that we won. But you're making me think about it, and I don't really want to think about it.
"So I stay focused on Cleveland. There's so much time ahead of us for other decisions to be made, so I'll just focus on beating Cleveland."
In 2011 and 2012, the Bears signed McCown off the street, late in the season, after injuries to Cutler. He played well enough last year for the Bears to re-sign him, giving him the luxury of a full off-season with the team. He should get a longer deal from the Bears or someone else this time around.
"I don't know about that as far as career goes," McCown said. "My daughter is 15. She's a freshman in high school. There's a JV basketball game this week that I'll miss. Those are the things that matter most to me right now. That's what we'll sift through -- a lot of thought, conversation and prayer -- and figure it out in the off-season."
•Linebacker Lance Briggs returned to practice for the first time since suffering a fractured shoulder on Oct. 20 but was limited. He is not expected to play Sunday but could be back the following week against the Eagles.