CHICAGO (AP) — Quarterback Josh McCown has given the Chicago Bears a fighting chance.
It might be up to Jay Cutler to finish the job.
Despite a porous run defense, the Bears (7-6) are back in the NFC North chase, tied for first with the Detroit Lions after dominating the Dallas Cowboys in the second half at frozen Soldier Field 45-28 on Monday night.
McCown finished with a third straight 300-yard passing effort — the first time it's been done in franchise history — yet his future could be returning to the bench or he could start again Sunday at Cleveland against the Browns.
It all depends on Cutler's sprained ankle, and the Bears won't know more about that situation until possibly Thursday. They were off Tuesday and do not practice Wednesday.
"For me, it is week to week and obviously I'm in practice and I see (Cutler's) progress and monitor that and, you know, I understand every week if my number is called I have to be ready to go," McCown said.
"So that's how it has been and we're ready for him to get back as quickly as possible; hopefully he is healing up and that will happen soon."
With his 27-of-36 effort for 348 yards and four touchdowns Monday, McCown moved to third in the NFL in passer rating at 109.8. He trails only Peyton Manning (114.5) and Nick Foles (120).
McCown has 13 touchdown passes, the same as Cutler. McCown has thrown one interception and Cutler eight.
Coach Marc Trestman left no room for uncertainty after Monday's game when announcing Cutler is still the starter.
"There's no change in the plan," he said.
Nor would Trestman say he can afford to be cautious and keep Cutler out longer now because of McCown's hot streak.
"It has nothing to do with cautiousness," he said. "We're taking this very methodically. The doctors understand that. When he's (Cutler) good to go and can have a full week of practice, he'll be our quarterback."
McCown led the team in every way he could Monday night. He scored a TD by leaping into the end zone and getting knocked into a mid-air spin by Dallas linebacker Sean Lee.
"A run like that by your quarterback, him jumping into the end zone and getting flipped around a little bit, him getting up with a smile on his face? It just gets us going, man," tackle Jermon Bushrod said. "If he can go lay it out there like that, then we have to lay it out there like that."
The Bears' offense hit full efficiency against Dallas, scoring on its first eight possessions. They never punted, the ninth possession consisting of a one-play kneel-down by McCown to end the game.
The five touchdowns came in contrast to the previous losses to Minnesota and St. Louis when the Bears struggled in the red zone.
Accounting for five TDs is not the kind of production most teams can expect when they rely on a 34-year-old journeyman backup quarterback.
McCown admits Trestman's offense might simply be the right situation for him to flourish.
"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," he 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."
McCown's passing has helped the Bears to a 7-6 record and he is 3-2 in his five starts this season.
Although the Bears are tied with the Lions, they trail in the NFC North race based on losing twice to Detroit. Lurking half a game back are the Green Bay Packers.
The Bears have road games with Cleveland and Philadelphia and finish at home with the Packers. The Lions host Baltimore on Monday night, host the Giants and finish at Minnesota.
The Packers are at Dallas on Sunday, host Pittsburgh and then have the finale at Chicago.
"I think we have a pretty good chance," wide receiver Earl Bennett said. "The only thing we can control is to go out each and every game and win."
NOTES: The Bears-Eagles Dec. 22 game has been flexed from afternoon to a Sunday night on NBC. ... Running back Matt Forte's 102-yard rushing effort Monday gave him 1,073 yards rushing on the year, and his 73 yards receiving brought his total to 518. It's the second time in his career he went over 1,000 yards rushing and 500 yards receiving in a season, making him the only Bears running back to do it. His seven catches Monday gave him 65, breaking the franchise's running back record of 62 for a single season that he set in 2008.
Follow Bear Report on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Bear Report Web site or magazine, click here.