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Silverman: McCown Can Move Up Among NFL Backup QBs

By Steve Silverman-

(CBS) There's an adrenaline rush for the backup quarterback any time there's an injury to the starter.

Josh McCown had it against the Redskins after Jay Cutler was twisted to the ground and unable to play as a result of a groin injury.

In recent years, Bears backup quarterbacks have struggled mightily. Jason Campbell was supposed to be a legitimate stand-in for Cutler last year, but his mastery of the Bears' offense was minimal and the Bears lost back-to-back midseason games against Houston and San Francisco. When he got another opportunity in a relief role against the Minnesota Vikings, the Bears lost again.

That's why the Bears brought in McCown, and he certainly was on top of his game against Washington. The Bears may have lost, but they put 41 points on the board and McCown completed 14-of-20 passes for 204 yards with a touchdown and he also ran four time for 33 yards.

McCown got that surge of adrenaline and performed when he was called to the big stage. But this week, he will not come off the bench as a fill-in. He is the starter because Cutler is weeks away from returning to the lineup.

McCown must perform against the Packers, and he must show the consistency that few backups can muster if the Bears are going to have a chance against a team that has tormented them for years.

McCown has size, arm strength, decent mobility and accuracy on his short- to medium-range passes. However, if the Packers can pressure him, his track record shows that he will make some very poor decisions with the football.

He is a decent backup quarterback, but for the Bears to be successful in Cutler's absence, he's going to have to show he belongs among the NFL's elite second-string quarterbacks.

Here's a look at the best back-up quarterbacks in the NFL.

1. Ryan Fitzpatrick, Tennessee Titans – Fitzpatrick just missed becoming a good starting quarterback during his run with the Buffalo Bills. When they decided he was no longer part of their plans, the Titans jumped on him to become their backup to Jake Locker.

Fitzpatrick was forced to fill in for Locker after the Tennessee starter suffered a hip injury. Head coach Mike Munchak had no hesitation in handing the ball to Fitzpatrick and he had the full run of the Tennessee offense. He finished off a Week Four victory over the Jets in fine fashion, and he also did a decent job in the Titans' Week Five loss to Kansas City.

He struggled against Seattle the following week, but that may have been due to the toughness of the assignment. Seattle's defense may be the best in the league and they are almost always in top form when they play at home.

Fitzpatrick has full understanding of the offense and decent mobility. His biggest problem is overconfidence, and he believes he can throw the ball through the tightest windows when he should be more judicious.

2. Matt Hasselbeck, Indianapolis – This is the classic case of the aging veteran who is there to take over if the young star suffers a serious injury.

Andrew Luck is the Colts' centerpiece and the belief among many around the NFL is that he is the best of the next generation of top quarterbacks. He is already a top-10 quarterback with all the skills needed to beat the best teams – just ask San Francisco, Seattle and Denver.

But Hasselbeck, 38, has seen it all and done it all. He led the Seahawks to the Super Bowl during his prime and he is an accurate passer. He reads defenses superbly and understands what the defense wants to do.

Hasselbeck no longer has the athleticism he once did, and there's a fear that he would not survive if he took a big hit. However, Chuck Pagano could turn to Hasselbeck with some degree of confidence if Luck was forced out of the lineup with an injury.

3. Kyle Orton, Dallas – Orton has been a starter for the Bears, Broncos and Chiefs and he has a 35-34 career record.

Orton, 30, is not a classic drop-back passer and he often looks a bit stiff in his release. However, he has full command of the offense, can take a hit and he has a starter's confidence.

While he may not throw as catchable a pass as starter Tony Romo, he may not make the bad decision at the crucial moment that has marked Romo's career.

4. Kirk Cousins, Washington – Cousins may be the best pure passer of the backup quarterbacks. He can also handle pressure.

He came into play for Robert Griffin III last year in games against Cleveland and Baltimore as a rookie and he completed a shocking 68.8 percent of his passes and had a 4-3 TD-interception ratio. Cousins had no hesitation to his game and threw the ball with confidence.

He has a plus arm and mobility in the pocket.

5. Shaun Hill, Detroit – Matthew Stafford has been healthy in 2011 and 2012, but Hill had 10 starts in the 2010 season. While the Lions were just 3-7 in those starts, Hill threw the ball well.

He completed 61.8 percent of his passes and had a 16-12 TD-interception ratio. When he was forced into action in relief last year in Week Three, he rallied the Lions with two late touchdown passes against Tennessee that sent the game into overtime.

Hill is a resourceful backup who nearly always makes the right decision even though he lacks a huge arm.

6. Matt Moore, Miami

7. Josh McCown, Chicago

8. Colt McCoy, San Francisco

9. Chad Henne, Jacksonville

10. Ryan Mallett, New England

Jeff Pearl
The author. (credit: Jeff Pearl)

Steve Silverman is an award-winning writer, covering sports since 1980. Silverman was with Pro Football Weekly for 10 years and his byline has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Playboy, and The Sporting News. He is the author of four books, including Who's Better, Who's Best in Football -- The Top 60 Players of All-Time. Follow him on Twitter (@profootballboy) and read more of his CBS Chicago columns here.

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