With still a couple months to go until kickoff of the NFL season, we continue our weekly previews of matchups we can’t wait to see in 2014.
Buccaneers vs. Bears (Week 12)
As we covered in an earlier installment of We Can’t Wait, Chicago finished the 2013 season with an 8-8 record, left at the doorstep of the playoffs after Green Bay earned a stunning road win in the final game of the regular season. The Bears are looking to make the second-season leap under head coach Marc Trestman, and appear primed to do it.
But this upcoming matchup isn’t related to an incredible finish, or a bitter rivalry.
When Jay Cutler went down with multiple injuries in 2013, Trestman called on backup Josh McCown to keep the offense going. McCown performed admirably, and while Chicago went just 3-5 in games in which McCown appeared, his statistics tell a different story.
Completions-Attempts: 149-224 (66.52 percent)
Passing Yards: 1,829
Passing TD: 13
Rushing TD: 1
Passer Rating: 109
The numbers tell the tale of a pretty good quarterback by league standards, which makes the ensuing groundswell of support for McCown understandable. In games McCown started, the Bears went 3-2.
But Trestman chose to stick with 30-year-old Cutler when he was healthy, which was likely the right move for the Bears’ long-term future. That decision freed the 34-year-old McCown to find a new team in free agency, and when Tampa Bay called with a two-year, $10 million contract, McCown answered with yes. And so far, he’s impressing his teammates in Tampa Bay.
In this matchup, we have McCown, named the starter by Tampa Bay’s new head coach shortly after his arrival, facing off against his old team. It’s a tried-and-true storyline.
But what about that new head coach?
That man would be Lovie Smith. Yes, the same Lovie Smith who once led the Bears to three division titles, two NFC Championship Games and their first Super Bowl appearance since 1985.
Tampa Bay hired Smith in January after firing head coach Greg Schiano, who went 11-21 in two seasons. Smith was let go by Chicago amid major change in the front office after a 10-6 season in 2012. It only took one season out of professional football for Smith, who owns an 81-63 career record, to find another head coaching job.
His first order of business was finding a stable option at quarterback. That isn’t a knock on second-year quarterback Mike Glennon, who showed flashes of potential amid an otherwise dreary 2013 season. But the Buccaneers needed a veteran option under center, and they believe McCown is the answer.
In conjunction with new General Manager Jason Licht, Smith next turned his attention to defense, adding defensive end Michael Johnson and cornerback Alterraun Verner — two of the top free agents in the 2013 class — within the first 24 hours of free agency. They finished the period as one of the league’s most active.
Tampa Bay added 6-foot-5 receiver Mike Evans with their first pick in the 2014 draft, and then nabbed 6-foot-5 tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, a player who has been likened to New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham, in the second round to go along with Pro Bowl wideout Vincent Jackson.
To put it simply, McCown will have plenty of big targets.
This transgression of events gives NFL fans an incredibly intriguing matchup between two teams that historically aren’t extremely familiar with each other. Smith and McCown, two former members of the Bears organization jettisoned after multiple seasons in Chicago, team up to return to Soldier Field, flanked on each side by a revamped defense and an offense that boasts plenty of scoring potential.
Trestman and the Bears stand in their way.
We can’t wait.