Of the 23 NFL starts Josh McCown has made, his last stop in Green Bay still elicits some of his most vivid flashbacks.
Christmas night 2011. The Bears were in the middle of a five-game losing skid, all coming after starting quarterback Jay Cutler was lost for the season with a broken right thumb. After Cutler's original backup, Caleb Hanie, proved inept in four starts, McCown got his chance.
His familiarity with offensive coordinator Mike Martz from their time together with the Lions opened the door to McCown's late-November signing -- fascinatingly enough off the coaching staff at Marvin Ridge High School in Charlotte, N.C.
Then came Hanie's struggles, another quarterback switch and McCown's opportunity to saunter onto Lambeau Field as the Bears' starter.
"I just remember walking out of that tunnel in Lambeau, and it's really narrow there, and just kind of having the first of many reflections," McCown said Thursday. "It was, 'Man, just (a few weeks ago) I was jogging out on the field against Charlotte Catholic to coach high school kids.' ... I remember having that thought. And I just remember getting into the game and feeling like, 'Man, this is a football game. It's just another game.'"
The Bears lost 35-21 that night, but McCown has proven intelligent enough, enthusiastic enough and experienced enough to remain part of the franchise's equation. On Monday, he will head back to Lambeau Field to start against a first-place Packers team whose defense has caused chronic headaches for the Bears in recent years.
Cutler, as has been well documented, never has solved the Packers defense in going 1-8 in nine career starts against it with nine touchdowns, 17 interceptions and 32 sacks.
So what gives the Bears hope McCown can produce a victory Monday night on the road? Against a confident defense?
"The 10 guys around him," Bears coach Marc Trestman said. "He has to utilize those 10 guys around him."
Since Cutler was diagnosed with a torn groin after a 45-41 Week 7 loss against the Redskins, coaches have reminded McCown his success will hinge on using the talent around him shrewdly without trying to be a savior.
Against the Redskins, McCown threw for 204 yards after halftime, including a go-ahead 7-yard touchdown pass to Martellus Bennett with just less than four minutes left.
"That's a positive," Trestman said. "And ... he doesn't have to carry the weight of the team."
Receiver Brandon Marshall said he hasn't noticed any major challenges in the transition.
"Our football stays the same," Marshall said. "The science of it doesn't change. So when Coach calls a play, just be where you're supposed to be. Josh showed what he was capable of in this offense against Washington."
Marshall, of course, acknowledged the most obvious difference between Cutler and McCown: throwing velocity.
"Josh is Chad Pennington and Jay Cutler is Brett Favre," Marshall said. "It's totally different. Chad Pennington, man, was a great teammate, awesome guy. And when you get on the field, you're not even 3 yards to your break point and the ball's already in the air. Josh is going to have that ball in the air before you even turn your head.
"Jay has such a strong arm has room to play with as far as the timing goes."
Timing can be a funny thing in the NFL. Now, the timing of Cutler's injury provides McCown another opportunity to perform on a brightly lit stage.
"I hate the circumstances," McCown said. "But it's my opportunity to serve my team. And I'm very thankful."
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