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NFL Preview - Chicago (6-4) at St. Louis (4-6)
By Shawn Clarke, Contributing NFL Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) - The Chicago Bears will try to keep pace in the tight NFC North when they visit the St. Louis Rams Sunday.
The Bears and Detroit Lions both have identical 6-4 records and the Green Bay Packers are right behind at 5-5. The Bears will not have quarterback Jay Cutler on Sunday because of a high ankle sprain suffered in a Week 10 loss to the Lions and he missed this past Sunday's 23-20 overtime win versus Baltimore.
Cutler left Chicago's 45-41 loss against the Washington Redskins in Week 7 with a torn muscle in his groin and returned to action against Detroit three weeks later before exiting with the ankle injury.
Josh McCown, who has made two starts and two relief appearances this season in place of Cutler, has completed 61-of-101 passes for 754 yards with five touchdowns and no interceptions.
The Bears are 2-0 in McCown's starts, but Cutler will return to the starting role when healthy.
"Jay is the quarterback of our football team and Josh is our backup, and all three of us know that," Bears coach Marc Trestman said Monday.
In a game delayed for almost two hours because of a lightning storm, McCown passed for 216 yards and a touchdown and Matt Forte had a busy day with 83 yards rushing on 18 carries and 42 yards and a touchdown on five receptions. Robbie Gould nailed a 38-yard field goal in overtime to win it for Chicago, which has alternated results in the last six contests.
Chicago rallied from a 10-0 deficit at halftime and defensive end David Bass had a 24-yard interception return for a touchdown in the second quarter to key the comeback.
"We always talk to our players about creating turnovers and not turning the ball over, and we did a very good job of that today," Trestman said. "I think that allowed us to stay in the game and be in the game."
The Bears will play two straight and four of the next five games on the road, and are 2-2 away from Soldier Field.
St. Louis is coming off its bye week and halted a three-game slide with an improbable 38-8 rout of the Indianapolis Colts on Nov. 10. The Rams picked off Andrew Luck three times and had four interceptions on the afternoon, while sack master Robert Quinn posted two sacks. Quinn is second in the NFL with 12 sacks, behind Indy's Robert Mathis.
Kellen Clemens threw for 247 yards and two touchdowns and rookie Tavon Austin ended with 138 yards and two scores on just two catches. Austin had a 57-yard score and an 81-yard touchdown for the Rams, who are 4-6 on the season.
"I knew the day was going to come," Austin said. "It was just me being patient and me being true to myself and to keep working. I'm just glad that I had an opportunity."
Zac Stacy carried the ball 26 times for 62 yards and a score in the win.
Clemens, meanwhile, has played well since starting quarterback Sam Bradford was lost for the season in Week 7.
"I think I've gotten more comfortable with each rep, both in practice and in games," Clemens said last week. "Fortunately, we were able to get a win on Sunday. I think I've gotten more comfortable each week, and hopefully we can continue to make plays and be effective on offense."
The Rams trail the all-time series with Chicago, 35-52-3, and have lost the last four meetings between the teams. In the previous meeting between the teams on Sept. 23, 2012, the Bears recorded a 23-6 victory at Soldier Field.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
With Cutler still nursing an ankle injury, McCown will handle snaps in the Gateway City. McCown is a reliable veteran who has plenty of weapons at his disposal in Forte, Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery.
The Bears have faith in McCown, especially now in November when wins are crucial and teams begin to separate themselves from the rest of the pack.
"Josh is a leader," Marshall said. "He's one of our captains even though he doesn't have a 'C' on his chest. He's awesome. He's been awesome for us. You can't ask for a better guy to lead the huddle."
Bears center Robert Garza agreed with Marshall's sentiments.
"Josh is a long-time pro," Garza said. "He knows what it takes to get ready for a football game. Without taking any reps and a new offense the entire season, to be able to step in and do what he has, it's a tribute to his preparation and the coaching staff getting him ready for the game."
McCown completed 9 of his 11 passes for 132 yards and 1 TD in the fourth quarter and overtime versus the Ravens.
The Rams are hoping to keep their defensive swagger after what they did to the Colts a few weeks back. Quinn will try to add to his sack total and linebacker James Laurinaitis keeps the defense intact.
"I take a lot of pride in my preparation and taking care of my body and being available," Laurinaitis said on the team's website. "I take a lot of pride in being a guy that, when coaches go to bed at night, they're not worried about if I'm going to be in the right gap or whether I'm going to make the right checks on my calls. They have other people to worry about and I've always prided myself on that."
Chicago will have to worry about the athletic Laurinaitis, who leads the Rams with 75 tackles. He had eight stops against the Colts and one of the defenses four interceptions. Laurinaitis and cornerback Trumaine Johnson lead St. Louis with two picks apiece.
Rams veteran defensive end Chris Long will face his younger brother, Kyle, who is a rookie guard for the Bears. Chris Long has 6 1/2 sacks this season.
"It's a dream come true for me to be able to look across the line of scrimmage and think my older brother and I are two of the few people on this earth to play in the NFL," Kyle Long said. "We're privileged and blessed."
Even though there's no sex appeal when it comes to Sunday's quarterback matchup, the Bears and Rams are still fighting to stay alive in the playoff hunt. The Bears have a better chance with their 6-4 record and first-place credentials, while St. Louis has a pulse at 4-6.
The Rams will most likely need to win out in order to have a shot at the postseason and that won't occur Sunday. They may have exhausted the chance of staying on track with that huge win over Luck and the Colts, so this week will be a downer for the Rams.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Bears 24, Rams 17
11/21 12:55:26 ET
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