Yes, John Fox is surprised Matt Barkley has played so well.
In his own defense, he said, so are most people.
“I don’t know how many people would — if they are, they might be fibbing a little bit —thought he was going to have the kind of success he’s had to this point,” the Bears coach said Monday. “It hasn’t resulted in a lot of wins, but I think he’s turned a lot of people’s heads.”
Of all the possible candidates to start at quarterback for the Bears next season —Brian Hoyer, Jay Cutler, Tony Romo, Jimmy Garoppolo, Mike Glennon or any number of collegians — none will be able to say they finished the NFL season, much less done as well as Barkley down the stretch.
Ask Fox if he’s ever been so surprised by a quarterback, and he quickly mentions Jake Delhomme, the Saints backup the Panthers signed before the 2003 season. With only two career starts to his name, Delhomme led the Panthers to the Super Bowl in his first year.
It’s not a completely apt comparison: Delhomme wound up starting for six of his first seven seasonswith the Panthers, while Barkley isn’t guaranteed to start for anyone next year.Still, Fox said, Delhomme’s success was in part because of the players that surrounded him.
“A lot of it is what kind of supporting cast you have and what kind of football team you have,” Foxsaid. “And hopefully we’ll get better in both of those areas.”
Barkley’s supporting cast has cost him at least one win, when two receivers dropped potential game-winning touchdowns against the Titans. It took until the third quarter of his fourth start Sunday — when he fumbled on a sack and then threw consecutive interceptions — for Barkley to look like the practice squad player many assume he’d remain earlier this season.
But then Barkley, a Californian wearing a wetsuit under his uniform to stay warm, rallied the Bears from down 17 in the fourth quarter to tie the Packers, who won on a field goal at the gun.
“I think he’s been given the opportunity; I think he’s made the most of it,” Fox said. “We still have two more opportunities and we’ll evaluate the body of work and move forward from that.”
That six-game test drive to end the season is significant. Each solid game makes Barkley seem less like a fluke. Building familiarity lessens risk this offseason, too. The Texans gave Brock Osweiler $37 million before having a formal meeting between he, head coach Bill O’Brien and coordinator George Godsey last offseason. Sunday, finally, he was benched after posting a 71.4 passer rating this season.
With each week, Barkley looks better by comparison.
“He’s definitely grown in his time as a starter. … ” Fox said. I think the young man’s responded well, and I’d like to think he would improve.”