Much has changed since McCown's first start as a Bear
Remember Josh McCown's first win as the Bears' starting quarterback?
Yeah, neither did I, until I started getting nostalgic (not really) thinking about Sunday's game. It will be the Bears' final appearance at the Vikings' Mall of America Field at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, which Mike Ditka not-so-fondly referred to as the "Rollerdome" in 1987.
The Vikings will move out of their home dome after this season and play outdoors for two years at the University of Minnesota's TCF Bank Stadium until their new dome opens for the 2016 season.
The Bears already have played the Vikings outside on the Minnesota campus, and that was in December 2010 after a heavy, wet snowfall caused part of the Metrodome's roof to collapse. The Bears won 40-14 on a partially frozen field, and defensive end Corey Wootton ended Brett Favre's career with a sack that caused a concussion.
But I digress. This is a story about McCown and the Bears' offense, then and now.
McCown got his first win as a Bears player at the Metrodome in the 2011 season finale, which was played on New Year's Day 2012. It was a week after Adrian Peterson tore the ACL in his right knee.
If you were hung over for this game, you didn't miss much. McCown got the win 17-13, but he was sacked seven times, one more than he has been sacked in five games this year.
When he wasn't running for his life behind an offensive line that included J'Marcus Webb at left tackle and career backup Edwin Williams at left guard, McCown completed 15 of 25 passes for 160 yards, 1 touchdown, 1 interception and a passer rating of 75.4. Subtract the 43 yards he lost in sacks, and the Bears had a net 117 passing yards.
This season has been a different story. At 34, McCown has a 100.8 passer rating and just 1 pick to go with 7 TD passes. In each of the five games he has played, McCown's passer rating has been better than 90.
He looks like a much better quarterback now than he was then, and a lot of that has to do with getting extended playing time and practice reps. He also has been promoted, now firmly entrenched as the No. 2 guy, instead of languishing as No. 3 behind Caleb Hanie.
More important, the talent around McCown is greatly improved, so kudos to general manager Phil Emery for assembling the weaponry.
Coach Marc Trestman and his assistants have done an exceptional job developing and utilizing the talent they've been given. Trestman's play-calling, with the exception of some goal-line choices, has been creative and conducive to efficient quarterback play.
The offense two years ago was different, and by different I mean lousy. It scored just 65 points over the final five games.
Matt Forte made the Pro Bowl in 2011 but missed the final four games with a sprained knee; Kahlil Bell started the season finale.
One of the wide receivers was the forgettable and long-past-his-prime Roy Williams. Earl Bennett started at the other wideout spot because Johnny Knox's career was ended two weeks earlier by a gruesome hit over the middle.
Devin Hester played his final game as a wide receiver, catching 1 pass for 14 yards. Now strictly a return specialist, Hester has a better chance getting snaps in a game at cornerback than receiver.
This year McCown is throwing to the NFL's most productive pair of teammates, Brandon Marshall (945) and Alshon Jeffery (860), who have combined for 1,805 yards. Tight end Martellus Bennett has 46 receptions and 531 yards in 11 games, about double what all Bears tight ends had (25 catches, 256 yards) for the 2011 season.
Roberto Garza is the only remaining offensive lineman from the 2011 unit, and the new group is doing a much better job of protecting McCown and Cutler than the old crew.
In 2011, Bears quarterbacks were sacked 49 times. This year they're on pace to allow only 25, although part of that improvement has to be credited to Trestman's offense and the importance he and offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer place on getting rid of the ball quickly.
That was an issue that Mike Martz's offense paid lip service to but did little to improve while Cutler & Co. were sacked 105 times in two seasons. It wasn't all J'Marcus Webb's fault.
Defensively it's different, too. Just three players who started the 2011 finale will start Sunday, but injuries have a lot to do with that, and that's another story.
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