Bears-Browns Preview

The Chicago Bears will get their starting quarterback back

Sunday against the Cleveland Browns, but they can thank their

backup for making sure they didn’t fall out of the playoff

hunt.

Josh McCown kept the Bears afloat with three wins in five

starts, but he’ll hand the reins back to Jay Cutler as the Bears

hope to grab at least temporary control of the NFC North and put

the pressure on Detroit.

Cutler went through a full practice on Thursday after working

out with the receivers following a walkthrough, and got the green

light to start this week.

Coach Marc Trestman made clear after Monday’s 45-28 home win

over Dallas that Cutler would be the starter when healthy, despite

McCown’s strong play.

“Josh has done exactly what we’ve asked him to do,” Trestman

told the team’s official website. “He’s performed very, very well

as a backup, and he understands his role.”

The Bears (7-6) are tied for the division lead with the Lions,

who play Monday night against Baltimore. Chicago has little room

for error, with Detroit holding the head-to-head tiebreaker and the

Bears two games back for a wild-card spot.

After consecutive losses at St. Louis and Minnesota, McCown

orchestrated a near must-win with 348 yards passing, four touchdown

passes, one rushing score and no interceptions against the

Cowboys.

His 109.8 rating ranks third in the league behind Nick Foles and

Peyton Manning. Cutler is 12th at 88.4, and there have been

questions as to whether the 34-year-old McCown is the better fit

for Trestman’s system.

“You always wonder how it would be if you operate in the right

kind of offense with the right kind of players and so on and so

forth,” McCown said. “With me, it’s just about being in the right

situation now with these guys, with this offense and with these

coaches, and allowing me to play within the system with the guys

that are around me.”

As Cutler said Thursday, though, he’s not paying attention to

any potential controversy that’s come out of McCown’s strong

play.

“There is not a debate in this building, so that is kind of

where my concern lies,” Cutler said.

Some of the credit for McCown’s success can be attributed to

Alshon Jeffery, who has 17 catches for 333 yards and three

touchdowns in the last two games to give Chicago another dangerous

option in the passing game beside Brandon Marshall.

After the big day against Dallas, the Bears are second in the

league with 28.3 points per game.

The defense, however, will again be without linebacker Lance

Briggs, who participated in practice on a limited basis Thursday

but will miss at least one more game after fracturing his shoulder

Oct. 20.

The Bears rank last in the league against the run at 157.0 yards

per game and 27th in overall defense at 381.5.

That might prove not to be a big problem against the Browns

(4-9), who rank 28th in rushing offense at 84.3 yards.

Cleveland has dropped seven of eight, including four in a row to

ensure its sixth straight losing season. It’s coming off a stunning

27-26 loss at New England on Sunday, blowing a 12-point lead in the

final 2:39.

“Anything can happen in a game and it did yesterday,” coach Rob

Chudzinski said Monday. “We have to make the plays and take

advantage of the opportunities we have to win those kind of

football games.”

The Browns have lost their last two by a combined five

points.

“They’re so close, games that we could’ve won, we should’ve won

just coming down to the last few seconds,” receiver Josh Gordon

said. “Teams are scoring points with a few seconds or maybe like a

minute left in the game. It hurts to watch everything you worked

hard for just crumble down so quickly.”

Gordon has 36 catches for 774 yards and five touchdowns during

the skid, and his 1,400 receiving yards lead the NFL.

Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden practiced Wednesday for the

first time since sustaining a concussion Dec. 1, though Chudzinski

said he’s uncertain of whether Weeden can back up Jason

Campbell.

The Bears have lost four straight in Cleveland, though they won

their last meeting with the Browns 30-6 in Chicago on Nov. 1,

2009.