Matt Barkley had the chance to be the hero Sunday afternoon. With the Bears trailing by six points late in the fourth quarter at Soldier Field versus the Tennessee Titans, the Chicago offense took possession. Barkley, the 26-year old quarterback making his first career start, had already led the Bears on two fourth-quarter touchdown drives. The final drive was his opportunity to lead the charge for a third score of the quarter, and more importantly, give the Bears an improbable win.
The drive began with 1:56 remaining and Chicago at its own 35-yard line, as Barkley threw a short pass over the middle to Marquess Wilson for 14 yards. Two plays later, Barkley to Wilson for 21 more yards; the following snap, the two connected for a 23-yard gain, taking the ball down to the Titans' 7-yard line. Suddenly, hero status was well within reach for the quarterback.
Bears quarterback Matt Barkley finished with 316 passing yards and three touchdowns.
On first-and-goal, with 47 seconds remaining, Barkley threw to Josh Bellamy on a beautifully-designed play, but Bellamy was unable to haul in the pass. The quarterback's next two passes were also incomplete. Finally on fourth down, Barkley evaded a Tennessee blitz and threw into a tight window to Deonte Thompson, who had to slide to get in front of the pass. The ball hit off Thompson's hands and fell to the ground; Chicago lost possession and ultimately the game, 27-21.
Though it was not the result Barkley was hoping for, the performance was a promising one in his debut start. He finished with 316 passing yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions, while completing 52 percent of his passes. Chicago's receivers struggled with hauling passes in – unofficially there were 8-10 drops by the Bears on Sunday – but Barkley still kept the team in the game until the very end. That has the quarterback optimistic moving forward. With more practice time, his chemistry with the team's wide receivers should improve, and the play on the field will only get better.
"I know who I am as a quarterback and I know what I'm capable of," Barkley said. "Football is a wonderful game because of the team sport it is, it takes 11 guys doing the right thing to make a play work. So it's encouraging, even though we lost, it's encouraging at the same time to see how these guys fought and how we all banded together to play for each other. It was cool to see.
"So I think just moving on from here, knowing that we can win, we have guys that can win games. We just have to make sure we don't shoot ourselves in the foot, that's the goal from here on out."
Barkley's teammates were impressed by his poise and composure in his first career start. It didn't start great, but he battled through it. After throwing for just 63 yards in the first two quarters, Barkley began to settle in after halftime. Chicago offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains increased the unit's tempo, partially because the team was trailing but also because it made Barkley more comfortable under center.
In the fourth quarter, the Bears ran a version of the hurry-up offense to allow Barkley to find a groove. The strategy worked, as he completed 18 of 33 passes in the game's final 15 minutes. "(Matt) was better late than early," coach John Fox said of his quarterback following the game. Despite being unable to convert successfully on the final drive, Chicago controlled possession for more than 10 minutes in that quarter and scored 14 points, its highest-scoring fourth quarter of the season.
"He was very impressive," wide receiver Cameron Meredith said of Barkley. "The speed of the game didn't slow down at all. He came out prepared, he put the ball in the right places."
Barkley may not have been the hero on Sunday, but he was able to show his teammates, coaches and Bears fans what he's able to do. A shoulder injury was the reason Jay Cutler was inactive in Week 12, and the team is unsure when he will be back in the lineup. If Barkley is called upon again to lead the team, the quarterback is confident he can take what he learned in Sunday's game against the Titans to further improve upon his performance.
"I'm not really fazed by situations, I just try to stay even keep and level headed and let that reflect to these guys, whether that's in the huddle or on the sidelines," Barkley said. "Just to be me, play my game, don't try to morph into anyone else. I thought I did that (on Sunday)."