CHICAGO -- Comparisons to Rich Gannon don't match up right now for Josh McCown because the former MVP had a deeper background as a starter before his career took off.
It's difficult to draw parallels between McCown and injured starter Jay Cutler for the obvious reason.
"Have you seen him throw?" McCown deadpanned after his initial appearance in Washington, when asked what Cutler could do that he couldn't.
Comparisons make for interesting conversation pieces, but they aren't relevant right now. McCown is playing like a starter, and for the second time in six weeks, he shone in front of a national audience, giving ESPN analyst Jon Gruden another chance to gush over his performance -- accounting for five touchdowns this time.
Sure, the Bears had to wait until Week 14 to find such a hideous defense, but the offense was nothing short of brilliant, scoring on the first eight possessions.
It was Gruden, as coach of the Raiders in 1999, who signed a 34-year-old Gannon to play quarterback, figuring he would be an ideal fit for the system. The biggest difference between Gannon and McCown is experience.
Gannon, who was most valuable player in 2002 at 37 after working with Bears coach Marc Trestman, made 58 career starts before being tabbed by Gruden as his starter, including four seasons with at least 10. McCown had 33 starts before this season, including two at the end of 2011 for the Bears, and just one year with at least 10 starts.
That difference of 25 starts isn't great, but it is evidence Gannon found places where he was more consistently viewed as starting material.
"I don't think that is fair to Josh at this stage," Trestman said recently. "He doesn't have the body of work as a starter that Rich had (when he became the Raiders' starter). I think you can talk about their work ethic, the kind of people they are and their leadership skills."
McCown, 34, won his initial appearance on "Monday Night Football" on Nov. 4 at Green Bay and triumphed again Monday as the Bears clobbered the Cowboys 45-28 at Soldier Field to pull even with the Lions atop the NFC North at 7-6, now needing to gain just one game in the final three because of the tiebreaking edge Detroit holds.
In frigid conditions, the passing game was hot from the start. McCown completed 13 of his first 15 passes and finished 27 of 36 for 348 yards and four touchdowns. He outdueled Tony Romo, who became last offseason the fifth-highest-paid player in the NFL in a deal that netted him $55 million guaranteed.
DeMarco Murray rumbled through the Bears defense for 52 of his 146 yards on the game's opening drive as the Cowboys grabbed a 7-0 lead. McCown took over from there. His 4-yard touchdown pass to Earl Bennett tied the game. He then scored on a 7-yard scramble, faking out defensive tackle Nick Hayden and helicoptering at the goal line after being hit by linebacker Sean Lee.
The Bears led 24-14 at halftime when McCown dropped a pass into Alshon Jeffery's outstretched hands in the back corner of the end zone for a 25-yard touchdown pass. He added touchdown passes to Matt Forte and Michael Bush in the second half.
The Bears have been waiting for Cutler to return -- and it could happen for Sunday's game at Cleveland -- but McCown may have become a bigger part of the long-range future than Cutler.
"His story will be written when Jay comes back," Trestman said. "Then we'll evaluate it."
McCown entered the game seventh in the NFL with a passer rating of 103.6. The more he has played, the more complicated the quarterback decision has become for Trestman and general manager Phil Emery.
For starters, Cutler's time away creates legitimate questions about availability for a 30-year-old who has now missed 12 of the last 35 games with four separate injuries.
If McCown can be plugged into Trestman's system and perform like this, who's to say the Bears won't opt to bring him back and draft a player for the quarterback whisperer to get his hands on? It would likely be a much cheaper option than re-signing Cutler.
One general manager texted during halftime Monday night and predicted just that -- the Bears would look to re-sign McCown and draft a quarterback.
The question now might be whether McCown has played well enough to remain the starter the rest of the way.
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