Josh McCown was superb against the Cowboys on Monday, throwing for 348 yards and four TDs. (MCT via Getty Images)
There will be plenty of discussions in the coming weeks and months regarding Jay Cutler's future in Chicago. Should the Bears re-sign him to a multi-year deal? Franchise tag him? Let him walk?
The situation is, at best, murky.
Here's something that is a lot clearer: Neither Cutler nor any other QB in the league could have performed much better than Josh McCown did Monday night. The Bears possessed the ball nine times against the visiting Cowboys. They scored eight times and took one knee to run out the clock -- 45 points in all, for a convincing victory.
McCown, who has been plenty impressive in his starts with Cutler sidelined, fended off a sub-zero wind chill to hit on 27-of-36 passes for 348 yards and five touchdowns in all (four passing, one rushing). Each one of those TD tosses went to a different Bear, too: Alshon Jeffery, Matt Forte, Michael Bush and Earl Bennett all on the receiving end.
Cutler could be ready to return as soon as next Sunday's game in Cleveland, and first-year head coach Marc Trestman said again following his latest win that Cutler would be the starter again when healthy. McCown has proven to be a pretty solid alternative.
"He's comfortable out there, no game is too big for him," Matt Forte told ESPN's Lisa Salters. "I'm proud of Josh, he's been doing a great job."
How a game like Monday's plays into the Bears' longer-term plans at the quarterback position is somewhat of a mystery, mainly because no one's really sure how Trestman feels about Cutler as his franchise player. And Monday's win may have been as much about Dallas' league-worst defense as it was about the Bears.
"They did a very good job moving the football on our defense, consistently throughout the game," said Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett. "It became one of those ballgames where you had to match serve every time and we weren't able to do that."
Still, in the interim, Trestman has taken the 34-year-old journeyman McCown -- with previous stops in Arizona, Detroit, Oakland and Carolina -- and helped turn him into the confident leader of a very dangerous offense. Over his past four starts, McCown has completed 70 percent of his passes, with nine touchdowns and just one interception.
That the Bears are but 2-2 in those outings somewhat overshadows McCown's performance. He has managed to develop a strong rapport with Alshon Jeffery (as evidenced by the duo's highlight-reel TD Monday) and he keeps on spreading the wealth across a talented Chicago offense.
"Every day the offense, we set a standard for ourselves the way we want to perform," McCown said, "and we held to that."
The Cowboys eventually rolled over, but they came out and delivered the first haymaker. After receiving the opening kickoff, they rammed the ball down the Bears' throats, opening the game with a 12-play, 75-yard touchdown drive that featured six carries by DeMarco Murray.
Neither Chicago nor McCown wasted any time responding. The Bears turned around with a 12-play TD march of their own, pushed along by Matt Forte's running and five McCown completions to four different receivers.
McCown then scrambled home for a score -- and a 14-7 lead -- on the Bears' next possession, finding the end zone just three plays after WR Brandon Marshall buried Dallas linebacker Sean Lee with a wicked block.
If Dallas didn't have the message before then, Marshall stamped it home: The Bears were not about to be out-toughed or outplayed, in a game they badly needed and on a night that saw them retire Mike Ditka's jersey during a halftime ceremony.
"The playoff picture and all that other stuff, we can't focus on," McCown said. "We have to focus on what's in front of us."
Chicago still needs three wins and some help to claim the NFC North title from here. That leaves the Bears in a worse situation than Dallas, even after Monday's beatdown. For all their obvious flaws, the Cowboys still control their own destiny in the NFC East -- close the season with three victories, including one in Week 17 over Philadelphia, and the playoffs are theirs.
If you had to pick the more postseason-worthy team from Monday's night action, though, there would be no contest.
Unlike their rivals from Green Bay, who have limped along without starting QB Aaron Rodgers, the Bears have not missed a step minus Cutler. They are 4-4 in his eight starts this year and now 3-2 with McCown leading the offense.
Does that mean that the Bears will throw in the towel on Cutler to stick with McCown, who will turn 35 before next season? It is probably too early to say, especially without knowing if Trestman has his eye on any of the quarterbacks that might be available in the upcoming draft.
But that the Bears have been no worse for the wear sans Cutler speaks volumes about Trestman's system, as well as about McCown's readiness to step in under trying circumstances.
McCown has not been flawless, and expecting him to maintain this current level of play after a decade's worth of rather nondescript seasons in this league probably is unrealistic.
Monday night, however, he and the Bears were close to perfect.
"We knew were capable of this kind of performance," McCown said. "We put it all together tonight."