Thursday night at Lambeau Field brought another spin of the Chicago Bears quarterback carousel. Two months after the team's last weeknight game - when opening day starter Jay Cutler left the Week 2 Monday night contest versus Philadelphia with an injured thumb - the team was forced to make another change under center. Second-stringer Brian Hoyer, who had put up impressive statistics in Cutler's absence, left the Week 7 game against the Green Pay Packers after being hit by two defenders early in the second quarter. The Bears later announced that Hoyer broke his left arm on the play.
Hoyer's injury forced the next man up on the carousel into action: Matt Barkley, a 26-year old who was signed by the Bears in early September following the preseason, threw 15 times for 81 yards and two interceptions in Chicago's 26-10 loss to their longtime NFC North rivals. Given that he had only been on the team for a few months, and hadn't taken a single game or practice snap with the first-string offense since he arrived, Barkley's insertion into the Bears' offensive lineup meant quite an adjustment for both the QB and the other players in the huddle. Barkley wouldn't use that as an excuse, however.
"I felt prepared coming into this game," said Barkley. "On paper knowing what we were doing, X's and O's wise, but coming in and throwing to guys you haven't really repped with was the biggest thing I had to get adjusted to real quick. Besides that I thought we moved the ball well at times, but we also shot ourselves in the foot. Sometimes the ball just doesn't bounce your way."
There were issues for the Chicago offense all game long, even before Hoyer was hurt. On the team's first drive of the game, the only yards gained came as a result of an encroachment penalty before a punt. On the second drive, Hoyer hit Josh Bellamy for a 25-yard gain, but that was the only positive play on the six-play drive before the team again kicked the ball away. A nine-play, 49-yard drive to start the second quarter showed some promise, with Alshon Jeffery and Ka'Deem Carey both picking up big gains. But that too stalled, and eventually ended when linebackers Julius Peppers and Clay Mathews collided with Hoyer on 3rd-and-6 from midfield.
Chicago tried to get the running game going when Barkley entered the game, aiming to take the pressure off a quarterback who hadn't completed a pass in a regular season contest since his rookie year of 2013. Barkley threw just three times in the first half, and the Bears entered the locker room after 30 minutes trailing 6-3. But in the second half the deficit grew larger, forcing the quarterback to air it out more often. Chicago recorded just five first downs after halftime, with its only points coming by the defense off a fumble recovery by rookie linebacker Leonard Floyd.
The 13 total first downs were the fewest by the Bears since September 27, 2015 at Seattle, when Chicago moved the chains just seven times.
Though Barkley has been a Bear for just a few weeks, he told coaches to not hold anything back once he came in the game. The quarterback was comfortable with his familiarity of the team's playbook and felt he could execute when asked. Still, there was a bit of a learning curve. "I've been there before, been on that stage, but just getting back to it takes some time," the quarterback said. Running the scout team is a bit different than facing the Packers on national TV, and Barkley knows with more practice, he'll improve better the next time he sees the field.
Chicago has the luxury of an extended break until their next game, on Halloween night versus the Vikings. During that time, the team will examine the quarterback position, looking to see who will be the next to ride on the carousel. If that player is Barkley, he says he will be ready.
"We'll get better, and I don't know what's going to happen these next couple of weeks but I'm confident I can play," Barkley said. "I trust our guys and they trust me, so I think we can keep going up from here."