A weird thing happened in the fourth quarter of the Bears’ 27-21 loss to the Tennessee Titans Sunday: Matt Barkley suddenly looked like the one-time hot quarterback prospect he was when he used to light up Pac-12 scoreboards at USC.
Of course, Barkley was honest in assessing his fourth-quarter performance, admitting that the hurry-up style against the Titans’ softened defense aided him.
“I think most importantly, in a lot of those looks, the defense – they just kind of play off and you can see what they’re doing,” Barkley said. “There’s not a lot of crazy looks or disguises. So I was seeing everything clean.”
Still, Barkley deserves credit for taking advantage of those windows and leading what should have been a 21-point fourth quarter comeback despite his receivers dropping 10 — 10! — passes.
So what exactly do the Bears have with Barkley?
I’d be lying to you if I didn’t admit that I pretty much wrote Barkley off after what I saw from him in Green Bay Oct. 20. In hindsight, that was an unfair conclusion to make considering he was entering a game cold after not preparing as the starter all week. Technically, that’s the backup quarterback’s job, but also technically, he’s the Bears’ No. 4 quarterback after Jay Cutler, Brian Hoyer and even Connor Shaw.
What took me by surprise Sunday against the Titans was Barkley’s arm strength. It’s not Jay Cutler arm strength, but it’s more than adequate for the NFL. Barkley delivered some real NFL passes Sunday and seemed to be under control of the offense, even after making crucial mistakes.
And, oh, did he make make mistakes. In my film review, I counted three awful decisions and four bad throws. That might not seem like a lot in a game where Barkley threw 54 passes, but two of his three awful decisions resulted in red zone interceptions and one his bad throws was an easy screen to running back Jordan Howard that may have gone for a touchdown. That’s potentially 12 or more points we’re talking about.
Still, it’s not surprising to see a quarterback making his first start commit some of those errors. Even Marcus Mariota — who the Titans took No. 2 overall last year — needed a full season before the game started to slow down for him.
What’s encouraging is that Barkley showed enough ability to warrant a second look. And that’s not ignoring the fact that he’s a former fourth round draft pick who is on his third team in four years and didn’t throw his first NFL touchdown until yesterday.
No one here is suggesting Matt Barkley is the guy who should permanently replace Cutler. Heck, I wrote this after the game. But the film review did show me more ability than I was expecting. There may be something to develop there, even if it’s just the backup to whoever the organization drafts or trades for this offseason.
I mentioned before Sunday’s game that the Bears had six — now five — extra preseason games to get ready for the 2017 regular season. They are opportunities to self-scout the bottom of the depth chart. Barkley is a restricted free agent at the end of the season. At a minimum, he earned another look. And if he takes advantage of the opportunity, he might be worth bringing back in 2017.
Other film observations:
- On Barkley’s second interception, tight end Daniel Brown lost his battle up front and allowed pressure on the quarterback. Barkley should have thrown the ball away instead of lobbing the ball into the end zone, but it was a rare time Sunday when he was under significant pressure.
- On the fumbled exchange between Barkley and running back Jordan Howard, center Cody Whitehall’s shotgun snap was off to the quarterback’s left, throwing off the timing of the play (which was to the right). Whitehair hasn’t had very many snap issues this season, but later in the game the Bears avoided disaster after the center popped one up way over Barkley’s head.
- Throwing the ball on 4th-and-1 on the Bears’ first drive of the game was questionable, but it’s worth noting that left tackle Charles Leno Jr. got beat at the line of scrimmage and Barkley had to force his pass to tight end Logan Paulsen.
- Interesting times for fourth-year wide receiver Marquess Wilson, who will be an unrestricted free agent in the offseason. Wilson’s career has been plagued by injuries, but he’s also flashed ability when he’s actually been on the field. Despite dropping a touchdown pass Sunday, he had a pretty solid game against the Titans with eight catches for 125 yards and a touchdown. Bears general manager Ryan Pace didn’t draft Wilson, but he obviously sees potential in the former seventh round pick because it would have been very easy to cut ties with the wideout after Wilson broke his foot again in the offseason program. Much like Barkley, Wilson is a guy to keep a close eye on in these final five games, especially because he’s technically the team’s No. 1 wide receiver right now.
- Credit rookie linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski with the big hit on the Bears’ third-quarter goal-line stand. The press box gave C.J. Wilson and Sam Acho credit for the tackle on the play, but it was Kwiatkoski who came flying into his gap to hit DeMarco Murray backward before the running back could get into the end zone. The Titans settled for a field goal.
- Also among the positives, nose tackle Eddie Goldman (ankle) might not be 100 percent, but he continues to show signs that he going to be a huge part of this defense going forward. Goldman clogged up the middle for most of the game and made an All-Pro type play to shed his block and tackle Murray short of the first down to keep the Bears alive with 2:10 left in the game. Even Jim Harbaugh couldn’t argue about the spot on that play.