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Duel personalities: It’s affable McCown vs. aloof Cutler

Is every game a critical game for the Bears?

It sure seems that way, now that they’ve lost six of 10 and have but a microscopic chance of making the playoffs.

And this seemingly meaningless game?


If Lovie Smith comes back with his 2-8 Buccaneers and beats the Bears at Soldier Field in his first trip ‘‘home’’ since getting fired in 2012, well, start the Thanksgiving oven early because the Bears are gonna get roasted like plucked birds.

For now, we’ll let the coaching feathers fall where they may.

The more interesting onfield showdown is between Bears quarterback Jay Cutler and his former fill-in, and now starting QB for the Bucs, Josh McCown.

The two are opposites in so many ways that you figure McCown probably likes blue if Cutler likes red and turns left when Cutler turns right.

But in 2013, they formed a quarterback unit for the Bears, with Cutler starting 11 games and McCown starting five. The Bears finished 8-8, but backup McCown, shockingly, turned out to be a pretty good field general.

He passed for 1,829 yards, 13 touchdowns and — this was gold — only one interception. Cutler, on the other hand, threw 19 TD passes and 12 interceptions.

At the end of the season, McCown had a higher completion percentage than Cutler (66.5 to 63.1), a longer TD pass (80 yards to 67 yards) and a better passer rating (109.0 to 89.2).

What he didn’t have was a jillion-dollar contract like Cutler. So when he got that from the Bucs, it seemed like justice for the career journeyman, and it was hard not to feel happy for the guy.

Because, see, here’s the real difference — McCown might be the friendliest, most likable, most outgoing guy in the league, while Cutler, well, you know, getting close to him is like trying to cuddle a hedgehog.

And yet, personality does not always denote potential greatness. If it did, Mr. Rogers would have been the emperor of the universe instead of the star of a TV show for 5-year-olds.

We asked McCown last year, when he was still with the Bears, if he thought he should be the starter even when Cutler got healthy. He laughed. So why was Cutler so much better?

‘‘Have you seen his arm?’’ McCown asked.

And that is the gift that Cutler has, a missile-launcher in his holster when everyone else has a service revolver.

‘‘It helps,’’ Cutler said Thursday at Halas Hall when asked about his weaponry.

But then he added, ‘‘There’s a lot of guys out there that are getting it done with far less, though. A lot goes into the quarterback position, as I think a lot of people in this room know.’’

Yes, we do.

And we know that if it were all just talent laid on a table like pie charts and graphs, Cutler would win in a landslide. The Bears would go deep into the playoffs year after year.

But a man like McCown — 35, from Sam Houston State, on six NFL teams in 12 years, two seasons with no stats whatsoever, one year out of the league entirely, arm more like a bullpen catcher’s than a fireballer’s — he can win in his own way.

Timing, intelligence, well-placed deep throws, caution with the ball, swift adaptability — all that can beat undisciplined talent. McCown hasn’t played that well this injury-filled season, but he still knows his craft.

And if he beats Cutler on Sunday, do you think we’ll ever hear the end of the boos?

Me neither.

Cutler said he stays in contact with McCown and wishes him well, except for this game. Indeed, the cool, aloof Cutler deeply appreciated the kindness, enthusiasm and insight McCown brought to him and the whole team while with the Bears off and on for three years.

“Josh is probably good for a lot of people,” Cutler offered. He looked out at the mostly antisocial, slovenly, disgruntled media in front of him. ‘‘You could probably pair him with most of the people in this room, and he’d find a way to help make you better. He’s not going to make you worse, I know that.’’

How could he?

And if McCown beats the Bears, he’ll be the most self-deprecating, courteous person at Soldier Field. Count on it.

And Cutler’s woes will be a snowball running downhill.