It’s official: Matt Barkley has a fan in Bears coach John Fox

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Bears QB Matt Barkley played well in Detroit against the Lions. (AP)

DETROIT – Bears receiver Cameron Meredith was open on his slant-and-go route, but barely. Lions top cornerback Darius Slay was on his heels, and safety Tavon Wilson was closing fast.

All quarterback Matt Barkley had to do was a deliver a throw with Jay Cutler-like velocity.

And …

“Matt put that in a great place,” Meredith said.

Slay couldn’t catch up to Meredith, and Wilson couldn’t close that open window. Barkley’s throw was that good, and it went for a 31-yard touchdown catch.

In the end, it was an individual highlight for Barkley in the Bears’ 20-17 loss at Ford Field on Sunday. Holding penalties by left tackle Charles Leno Jr. and right guard Ted Larsen doomed Barkley’s opportunity to play hero in the final minutes.

But it’s still a throw that matters in the long run, particularly when it’s time for him to be evaluated by a Bears team that has more questions at quarterback than Chicago has inches of snow.

Barkley’s throw to Meredith wasn’t a checkdown to a running back, and it wasn’t a well-executed screen that padded his stats. It was a pass thrown between two defenders that hit his receiver in stride for a touchdown. It cut off the Lions’ momentum.

“He throws the ball with a lot of confidence, a lot of touch,” said Meredith, whose touchdown catch cut the Lions’ lead to 13-10 in the third quarter. “They’re easy, catchable balls.”

No one here is anointing Barkley the Bears’ next quarterback. Three starts remain, and Barkley’s next step involves connecting with Alshon Jeffery, a true game-breaker who returns from his four-game suspension on Monday.

“Hopefully, he hasn’t missed a step,” Barkley said.

At the very least, Barkley has shown that he’s more than what everyone thought he was when the Eagles traded him away to the Cardinals for a conditional seventh-round pick in September 2015.

The wins aren’t there, but Barkley has made a fan out of Bears coach John Fox.

“The young man has continued to impress me,” Fox said. “He’s been thrown in on the road in Green Bay. He came in and started with a week’s work and performed well [against the Titans].

“The conditions he played in a week ago [against the 49ers], even though it was at home, it was still tough conditions for a quarterback or anybody that handles the ball.

“And then really to come here on the road against a good football team in a loud environment, I just continue to be impressed by the kid’s performance.”

That “kid” did have his struggles at Ford Field. But that was expected. Communication issues, slow personnel changes and bad clock management stalled the first drive. Barkley also forced three throws that nearly turned into interceptions.

But Barkley (20-for-32, 212 yards, 92.2 passer rating) still played well enough for the Bears to have a chance to beat a division rival on the road.

In the second quarter, Barkley displayed poise and awareness when he stepped up in the pocket in his own end zone and completed a 24-yard pass to receiver Deonte Thompson down the left sideline.

In the final minutes, his resolve stood out. One play after Meredith’s 27-yard catch-and-run was negated by Leno’s hold, Barkley found rookie receiver Daniel Braverman for a 23-yard gain.

After Braverman’s catch was called back by Larsen’s hold, Barkley completed passes of five and 14 yards to tight end Daniel Brown and Meredith, respectively.

The Bears still had a chance.

On Barkley’s final throw, he nearly connected with receiver Josh Bellamy for a first down, but his throw bounced off of Bellamy’s right shoulder.

“I was just telling myself, ‘Just stay alive. Give us a chance,’ ” Barkley said.

Every moment is a chance for Barkley to prove himself. In Detroit, that included his comeback attempt and a highlight-reel throw.

“He handled the offense well,” Meredith said. “It’s good to see him continue to get better.”

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