THE MORNING AFTER: An ode to the backup

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CHICAGO – So easily forgotten, overlooked, underappreciated yet always necessary.

This is the second in command. The ‘No. 2’. The guy behind the guy.

Every team has one, sometimes two. He’s the ‘next man up’ whose importance means a lot to the men who are first.

The backup quarterback.

Every leading man has one. Joe Montana had Steve Young. Peyton Manning had Jim Sorgi. Jim McMahon had Steve Fuller. Tom Brady has Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett.

Jay Cutler has had Todd Collins, Caleb Hanie, Josh McCown, Jason Campbell and Jimmy Clausen. The quintet of backups started 15 games in place of Cutler since 2010 combining for a 5-10 record in that time. Collins was 1-0, Hanie 0-4, McCown 4-3 Campbell 0-1, and Clausen 0-2.

All of these “next men” were average-to-below average at best. Perhaps the sixth guy is the charm.

Thrown into the fray after Cutler’s thumb injury became too much after a third quarter interception against the Eagles in Week 2, Brian Hoyer has brought a mix of stability and effectiveness to an oft shaky position for not just the Bears but a number of teams.

He was 9-of-12 in the quarter filling in for Cutler but he was too late to save the game. Hoyer’s strong against the Cowboys was a bit tardy as he threw for 317 yards and a pair of touchdowns after the game was decided.

Most importantly he had just one turnover in those games – a fourth quarter fumble late in the game with the result mostly decided.

On Sunday he was at his best, delivering a strong performance in a number of ways when the Bears needed it the most. Once again Hoyer didn’t throw an interception and was 28-of-36 passing for 302 yards and a pair of touchdowns in a 17-14 win that gets the Bears into the win column after three rough weeks to start the year.

“Well it’s not something that I haven’t done before, I think that’s the biggest thing for me,” said Hoyer of starting in the NFL-which he did for the 28th time in his career Sunday and picked up his 16th victory. “The week of preparation and preparing to play and knowing that you’re going to play, I think that it’s something that comes naturally to me now having the four years that I’ve started for whatever team it might be.

“To have that and to try and be a NFL quarterback on a weekly basis, not just Sunday, but Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and go out and execute on Sunday.”

His second 300-plus yardage game in a row is a rarity even for Cutler who last did it in Week 4 and 5 in the 2013 season and that was just the second time he’d done that with the Bears. He managed the game well too as the Bears incorporated enough runs to get Jordan Howard to 111 yards – the first Bears rusher to hit the century mark since Matt Forte did it in Week 1 of 2015.

All of those efforts helped the team to their first home win in nearly a calendar year – 363 days to be exact.

“He’s done great. He’s played very well. His communication is very good,” said tight end Zach Miller – who has caught three touchdowns from Hoyer in two games. “He’s leading in the huddle, taking care of the football, getting the ball out. Everything that he can do, he’s doing, so he’s playing very well.”

It wasn’t perfect a perfect performance my any means. The Bears gained a lot of yards (408), won the time of possession battle (33:14) but 5-of-13 on third down limited them to just 17 points. To be fair the Lions hurt themselves with a pair of Matthew Stafford interceptions on long drives that were caused by quarterback-receiver miscommunication.

But after watching Clausen struggle last year and the year before as a fill in there is at least a sense of comfort should Cutler remain out for an extended period of time. This is not to advocate that Hoyer should be the starter – the job is and should be Cutler’s when he returns – but for the moment the team is in capable hands.

Criticize Ryan Pace for a few offseason moves that at the moment seem shaky but he got his backup right. Don’t take it for granted.