Last year when the Bears faced the Lions at Soldier Field, Jay Cutler emerged bruised, battered and concussed after Ndamukong Suh sacked and buried the Bears quarterback in the second quarter.
Bears backup quarterback Josh McCown knows that he could be just a snap away from relieving Cutler Sunday in Detroit if Cutler is thrown to the Ford Field turf like a rag doll or decides not to slide on a run and takes a vicious hit.
McCown most often is seen along the sideline wearing a baseball cap and holding a clipboard on game days. Yet his performance in case of emergency could either rescue or doom a team's season. Bears fans nod knowingly when the name Caleb Hanie is mentioned.
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"It's tough," McCown told me this week after a practice. "The further you go into the season, the harder it is, because you have got to find little details and little things to work on every day to make yourself better.
"You don't want to let down the guys around you. ... So you have to focus on those (details), because you don't know. It could be the next snap with you running out there, and it could be a crucial snap to win the game."
McCown, 34, knows the drill. He previously played for the Cardinals, Lions, Raiders and Panthers. A third-round draft pick by the Cardinals in 2002 after playing at SMU and Sam Houston State, McCown has appeared in 52 NFL games with 33 starts, throwing 37 touchdowns and 44 interceptions.
He started for the Bears against the Packers on Christmas Day 2011, stepping in for Hanie. Cutler already was out with an injury. McCown threw for a touchdown and had two interceptions in that 35-21 loss. His passer rating was 76.8. He also started against the Vikings in the last game of the 2011 season, completing 15 of 25 passes for 160 yards and a TD. He was sacked seven times, yet the Bears won 17-13.
At this stage of his career, McCown has accepted his role.
"You almost have to be more studied up than the starters, because you don't know when (playing time) is coming," he said. "Your mind has to be super sharp. It takes a lot of time and energy to stay ready. But that's part of the job."
Cutler has been on top of his game so far this season. When he has been injured in the past, the Bears offense has floundered badly. General manager Phil Emery insists McCown is a capable backup after Jason Campbell failed to inspire last year. McCown is playing on a one-year, $840,000 contract.
"Jay has been great. Jay has been consistent and even-keeled and calm and poised and worked through some things," McCown said. "I think you've seen that in his play. He has battled through some adversity in each game. And we have just calmed him and worked through it and he has really played well in the fourth quarter. It's a credit to him and it is a credit to the things that he has gone through with previous offenses.
"Sometimes it gets old, man: 'I've got to learn a new offense again this year?' It's a credit to Jay to stick with it and just his maturity to say: 'OK, what are the things I can do better to help myself be a better player?' It has shown up in his play and I am really proud of him."
Though he is in the background on game day, McCown is conscientious about his role as a contributor to the offense's preparation with coach Marc Trestman and quarterbacks coach Matt Cavanaugh.
"I understand what's going on, what the intent of every play is," McCown said. "We work as a really good unit. So it gives me a really good (comfort level) if I have to play.
"You're going to go out there on Sunday and think: Unless the starter gets hurt, you're not going to play. So, for me, it's: 'How can I bring value to my environment and to my team?' Not just on a Sunday, but Monday through Saturday as well. It's doing the little things in practice, seeing things. Maybe grabbing a receiver and saying, 'Hey, think about that (possibility).' Or talking to Jay. And little things like watching the pulse of the team. What's going on on offense. Jay is so focused on what he has to do, and rightfully so, I might say: 'Hey, Jay, go talk to this guy.' Just little things like that, where you can be an extra set of eyes for not only the starter but for coaches. I think that is critical for a backup.
"You don't want to just take up space. You want to add value."