To be the hero, all Bears quarterback Matt Barkley had to do was make one more good throw from the Titans’ 7-yard line in the last 47 seconds.
And he did it.
Cornerback Perrish Cox slipped, leaving wide receiver Josh Bellamy uncovered. Barkley hit Bellamy with a pass right in his No. 11.
“I figured that we had a chance to score,” Barkley said.
But the Bears didn’t, and the Titans won 27-21 at Soldier Field on Sunday. It was a horrendous drop by Bellamy on a day full of them.
On fourth down, wide receiver Deonte Thompson failed to make a sliding catch in the end zone — even though Barkley’s pass hit him in the chest — to end the Bears’ dramatic comeback attempt.
But let’s be honest: Barkley won; his team didn’t.
It was surreal to see Barkley — a four-year veteran signed to the practice squad Sept. 5 who was making his first career start — in that situation in the first place. His performance had inspired the comeback. He was the one who played well enough to win.
“I know who I am as a quarterback, and I know what I’m capable of,” said Barkley, who was 28-for-54 for 316 yards and three touchdowns.
“Even though we lost, it’s encouraging at the same time to see how these guys fought and how they really banded together to play for each other.”
Barkley said the right things afterward. He praised his protection for his sack-free day and didn’t fault any receiver who had a case of the drops.
On the field, it was apparent that Barkley’s teammates felt his spark. They jumped about on the sideline as Barkley cut into the Titans’ 20-point lead in the fourth quarter.
“For the guy’s first start with us, it was pretty good,” coach John Fox said.
But what does it all mean?
No one is anointing Barkley the Bears’ next quarterback. There’s a big difference between Barkley and the Titans’ Marcus Mariota.
And no one is saying that Barkley is playing well enough yet to prolong Jay Cutler’s absence. It was only one game against a mediocre defense.
If anything, Barkley’s success speaks to his coaching. Offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains’ play-calling has merited criticism, but he and quarterbacks coach Dave Ragone got enough out of Barkley — who was throwing to reserves — to almost knock off the Titans.
“I thought Dowell called a hell of a game,” Barkley said.
That means something. Coaches are evaluated, too.
Loggains and Ragone also pulled out a 98.0 passer rating from journeyman Brian Hoyer, who didn’t make many big plays in his five starts but still fit the efficient mold that Fox prefers.
As for Barkley, it helped that Tennessee’s secondary was in soft coverage after Mariota (15-for-23, 226 yards, two touchdowns, 126.4 passer rating) had staked the Titans to a big lead.
Barkley was able to overcome a rough first half and two bad interceptions to find a rhythm. Pushing the tempo also helped.
“I was seeing everything clean,” said Barkley, who was 18-for-33 in the fourth quarter.
General manager Ryan Pace likes Barkley, too.
And that means everything.
Barkley’s success against the Titans won’t preclude Pace from drafting a quarterback early on in the 2017 draft. But he never saw Barkley as the punch line that he apparently had become after going from a prized high school recruit for Southern California to a fourth-round pick of the Eagles in 2013 to roster fodder.
Barkley nearly rewarded Pace’s belief in him with a dramatic victory.
“We just have to move on from here, knowing that we can win, that we have guys on this team that can win games,’’ Barkley said. ‘‘It’s just making sure we don’t shoot ourselves in the foot. That’s the goal from here on out.”