GREEN BAY — Bears quarterback Jay Cutler spent Monday night at Lambeau Field stuck on the sideline, a torn groin rendering him inactive — for at least one game.
Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers disappeared after one series, his left shoulder injured significantly enough on an early sack by Shea McClellin that he couldn't return. And he might not for a while.
Just like that, the best quarterback on the "Monday Night Football" stage was 34-year-old Josh McCown, a poised and appreciative veteran looking to make the most of an indefinite window of opportunity.
Who said any of this was supposed to make sense?
The Bears' improbable 27-20 road victory registered as surprising at the very least. They arrived at Lambeau as 101/2-point underdogs and left clumped in a three-way tie at 5-3 atop the NFC North with the Packers and Lions.
With McCown guiding the offense with patience and purpose, the go-ahead score came late in the third quarter, a 6-yard dart to Alshon Jeffery in one-on-one coverage against cornerback Davon House.
Among McCown's other contributions were a brilliant 23-yard, first-quarter touchdown pass to Brandon Marshall while being pulled down by Mike Neal and a composed 93-yard drive at the end of the first half that finished with a 24-yard Robbie Gould field goal for a 17-10 lead.
It all added up to a 22-for-41, 272-yard, turnover-free night that further legitimized coach Marc Trestman as an offensive wizard capable of energizing his attack no matter who's taking the snaps.
The touchdown throw to Marshall was vintage McCown, equal parts guts and trust.
"With a guy like Brandon, if you keep it in play and give him a chance, he'll make that kind of unique catch," Trestman said. "The big thing was Josh gave him a chance to make the play."
For two weeks, since relieving Cutler in a loss at Washington, McCown heard reminders that his success would hinge on his ability to guide the offense without trying to do too much. Yet after a mini-skid of three losses in four games, the Bears understood the danger of potentially falling two games behind the Packers.
Without question, Rodgers' exit and the entry of Seneca Wallace delivered a huge blow to the Packers. But the Bears also maximized their opportunities.
Julius Peppers made an athletic first-quarter interception, batting a Wallace pass into the air and leaping to corral it.
Running back Matt Forte added firepower with 179 yards from scrimmage and a 1-yard touchdown run. Marshall (seven catches for 107 yards) and Jeffery (five for 60) enhanced McCown's confidence. And the offensive line allowed only one sack.
"What we talked about going into this game was (being) together," McCown said. "Do this thing together. That's the best. Anything you do in life, when you do it in community, it's special."
McClellin's early sack may have been the night's biggest play, forcing the Packers to settle for a short field goal after an impressive opening drive and sending Rodgers to the locker room. It also energized a defensive line that came into the game with four sacks in seven games and delivered five Monday, three by McClellin.
Even in victory, there were signs of how vulnerable the defense can be. The Packers' two touchdown drives measured one play, 32 yards, 7 seconds and two plays, 57 yards, 53 seconds.
The former was a gift touchdown sprint by James Starks down an O'Hare-sized runway after linebacker James Anderson exited his gap, leaving lead blocker John Kuhn looking for anyone to hit in the hole.
The Packers' longest run on their next touchdown drive was a similarly easy 56-yarder from Eddie Lacy, who pounded his way to 150 yards on 22 rushes.
It's no wonder Trestman opted for a gutsy run call on fourth-and-inches at the Bears 32 with 7:50 left. Forte converted with a 3-yard run, and the Packers didn't see the ball again until 50 seconds remained, after an 18-play drive ended with Gould's 27-yard field goal.
"I can't say there was great analytical reasoning involved," Trestman said. "It was a sense that we needed to stay on the field, and I felt we could. ... I knew one way or the other, I wouldn't look back and have any regrets on the decision."
The Bears left Lambeau without regret, instead holding a share of first place.
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