Even at 1-3, Chicago Bears QB Barkley turning heads
It only took a moment for Bears coach John Fox to respond when asked if he'd ever been as pleasantly surprised with a quarterback's performance as he has with Matt Barkley's.
Barkley's 1-3 record as a starter isn't much better than Jay Cutler's or Brian Hoyer's. Both of them went 1-4 before incurring season-ending injuries.
But much less was expected from Barkley, who had never started an NFL game before he did so for the Bears Nov. 27 against the Tennessee Titans. In his three previous NFL seasons, Barkley played in just four games and threw a total of 50 passes.
"I don't know how many people would have thought he was going to have the kind of success he's had to this point," Fox said. "It hasn't resulted in a lot of wins, but I think he's turned a lot of people's heads."
The Bears didn't sign Barkley to their practice squad until Sept. 5, after he was waived by the Arizona Cardinals, and after the Bears' presumptive No. 3 quarterback Connor Shaw was lost for the season to a fractured leg.
Barkley's up-and-down performance Sunday included 17 unanswered points in a furious fourth-quarter comeback in the heartbreaking, 30-27 loss to the Packers. So Fox was quick to find a comparison.
"I'd go all the way back to my second year as a head coach," Fox said. "We signed a guy in free agency. (He) wasn't a big name, a backup on the New Orleans Saints roster -- Jake Delhomme."
In four seasons with the New Orleans Saints, including two on their practice squad, Delhomme played in just six games and threw 50 passes. He signed in 2003 with Fox's Panthers as the backup to Rodney Peete. But Peete was benched at halftime of the 2003 season opener with the Panthers trailing 17-0. Delhomme came in and threw 3 TD passes, the last with 16 seconds left to former Bear Ricky Proehl, to give the Panthers a 24-23 victory.
"He came in and took us to within 3 points of winning a Super Bowl in his first year as a starter," Fox recalled. "A lot of it is what kind of supporting cast you have and what kind of football team you have. Hopefully we'll get better in both of those areas."
Barkley has played well enough to give the Bears a chance to win in each of his first four starts. And he's played well enough to factor into the Bears' future plans.
Barkley's 2 interceptions and 1 lost fumble in the third quarter helped the Packers score 17 straight points. But his 166 yards and 115.1 passer rating in the fourth quarter helped forge a 27-27 tie that was broken by a Packers field goal on the final play of the game. Barkley's 362 passing yards were the most ever by a Bears quarterback against the Packers.
"With young players sometimes, there are mistakes," Fox said. "He responded to those mistakes and answered it with a very good fourth quarter.
"That stretch in the third quarter was a little bit rough -- 17 points worth rough. But he was able to bring us back and give us an opportunity to win the game. He's definitely grown in his time as a starter."
Fox said he wasn't surprised that Barkley rebounded from disaster in such impressive fashion because he remembered the Titans game.
"We'd seen it in the Tennessee game," Fox said. "In the first half, we had a couple (red-zone) picks, and he rallied the team. We had opportunities to win the game, unfortunately came up short."
Trailing 27-7, Barkley would have engineered the largest fourth-quarter comeback in the Bears' 96-year history. But receivers dropped 2 passes in the end zone in the final minute of a 27-21 loss.
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