Bears coach John Fox hasn’t named a starting quarterback for Sunday’s game against the Seahawks in Seattle. But Jimmy Clausen can’t wait to get going.
“It’s a good challenge. It’s going to be a fun time on Sunday,” Clausen said after practice Thursday at Halas Hall. “Gotta go out and execute the game plan and just have fun with the whole thing.”
Not even Fox could keep up the charade Thursday towards the end of his post-practice press conference, when he was asked about the communications issue the inexperienced Clausen might face at CenturyLink Field. “Obviously there is stock put in experience,” Fox said. “But Jimmy has been in big spots before. I think he’ll handle it just fine.”
So with Jay Cutler out with a strained hamstring, it’ll be Clausen at quarterback in the most unenviable of positions — facing the 0-2 Seahawks in their home opener with the Seahawks in desperate need of re-establishing themselves as Super Bowl contenders. The likely return of defensive leader Kam Chancellor from a contract holdout only figures to inspire the Seahawks and further ignite the already deafening crowd at CenturyLink Field.
Here’s what Clausen’s up against: In their last three home openers, the Seahawks have beaten the Packers 36-16, the 49ers 29-3 and the Cowboys 27-7 — reducing Aaron Rodgers to a mere mortal (one touchdown, one interception, three sacks and an 81.5 passer rating), devouring Colin Kaepernick (20.1) and turning Tony Romo (74.1) into Mark Sanchez.
All three came in with career passer ratings of 96.9 or above but came nowhere close against the Seahawks. That pegs Clausen, whose career passer rating is 60.0, at around 35.2 on Sunday.
That sets the bar pretty low, which is becoming a theme of Fox’s first season as the Bears deal with laborious transitions on offense and defense, complicated by injuries that have forced Cutler to operate with a degree-of-difficulty he just can’t handle.
The best thing Clausen has going for him is that nobody is expecting anything. The Bears don’t accept moral victories, but if they walk out of CenturyLink Field without embarrassing themselves and Clausen is still standing, they will have taken a step forward.
“I think the biggest thing is going to be communication for us,” Clausen said. “Go out, get the line all set, communicate well, get the protections, the runs, the backs and receivers the play and then go execute. That’s the biggest thing for us — communicating and being on the same page and not making the errors we did last week.”
The Bears had six offensive-line penalties and errors in execution against the Cardinals that made Clausen’s job too difficult.
Clausen is hopeful a full week of preparation in practice will eliminate those errors. “It’s always easier when a guy gets to take reps in practice and get a feel for what we’re doing,” offensive coordinator Adam Gase said.
Of course, as Mike Tyson famously said, everybody has a plan until they get hit in the mouth. No defense in the NFL smells blood in the water like the Seahawks. Rodgers had them on their heels last week in a Packers victory at Lambeau Field. But if they get Clausen and the Bears down, it more than likely will go from bad to worse.
“I’ve played in games [like that],” Clausen said. “Last year Detroit was going to the playoffs and a backup quarterback was coming in to play. I can’t worry about that stuff. They’re going to play their game and we’ve got to play our game.”
Clausen, who grew up as an elite quarterback playing on the big stage in high school and at Notre Dame, will not be intimidated by the brash Seahawks defense. He still might get overwhelmed, but he won’t be intimidated.
“I’ve been through that,” he said. “Being a freshman [at Notre Dame] playing against fifth-year seniors. Being a rookie in the NFL [with the Panthers] against veterans. We’re still playing football here.”
Clausen has faced the Seahawks in Seattle once in the regular season in his NFL career — as a rookie starter for Fox’s Panthers in 2010 at then-Qwest Field. Clausen was 9-of-13 for 108 yards as the Panthers took a 14-0 lead in the second quarter before the roof caved in. Clausen was 9-of-21, threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown and was sacked three times as the Seahawks scored the next 34 points to win 34-14.
The Seahawks, then in Pete Carroll’s first season, are much better now — Chancellor and safety Earl Thomas were rookies then and Richard Sherman and K.J. Wright wouldn’t arrive until the following year.
But Clausen isn’t a rookie any more either. This is his chance to prove how far he’s come since then.
“I feel way more comfortable now,” Clausen said. “Being a rookie in the NFL is tough at any position but going back to my Carolina days, when I was a rookie — not being healthy didn’t help at all. But I’ve learned so much since them and I’ve grown in so many ways possible.”