In the NFL, the notion of riding the hot hand has influenced many coaching decisions throughout recent seasons.
Look no further than the San Francisco 49ers last season. Alex Smith started the first nine games for the 49ers last season. In those 9 games to begin the 2012 season, the 49ers had a record of 6-2-1 while establishing themselves as one of the top teams in the NFC conference. Smith was excelling in the 49ers first 9 games last season. Smith had a quarterback rating of 104.1 through the 49ers first nine games last season to go along with a completion percentage of 70% while passing for 1,731 passing yards with 12 touchdowns and 5 interceptions.
In the 49ers ninth game of the season, Smith suffered a concussion. As a result of the concussion, Smith was inactive for the 49ers next game against the Chicago Bears.
In the game against the Bears, Smith’s backup, Colin Kaepernick, excelled by completing 16 of his 23 passes for a total of 243 passing yards to go along with 2 touchdowns. After leading the 49ers victory over the Bears, Kaepernick continued his success the following week with a win against the New Orleans Saints.
Meanwhile, Smith–despite being cleared to return–remained on the sidelines for the rest of the season as Jim Harbaugh opted to stick with Kaepernick and ride the hot hand. That decision proved to be the right decision for the 49ers as the team made it to the Super Bowl.
After the season, the 49ers traded Smith to the Kansas City Chiefs.
The Chicago Bears may be in the same position that the 49ers were in last season. Bears head coach Marc Trestman may not want to admit it now but there may come a point down the road this season that he will need make a decision much like Harbaugh made last season with the 49ers.
Bears starting quarterback Jay Cutler has done nothing to this season to lose his designation as the starting quarterback of the team. In fact, Cutler was beginning to blossom under Trestman’s offense. Cutler has a passer rating of 88.4 this season with the Bears to go along with 12 touchdowns and 8 interceptions.
The only thing that has limited Cutler from being the starting quarterback for the Bears this season has been injuries. Due to a groin injury and ankle injury, Cutler has missed nearly 2 and a half games this season for the Bears. That number is expected to grow as Cutler is not expected to return until early December.
In place of Cutler, backup quarterback Josh McCown has excelled. Much like Kaepernick did last season for the 49ers. McCown has a passer rating of 100 this season to go along with 5 touchdowns and no turnovers while playing for an injured Cutler. Beyond that, the Bears are 2-0 in the two games that McCown has started this season.
Needless to say, McCown is the hot hand for the Bears. Meaning when Cutler is ready to return, Trestman will need to make the decision of whether to ride the hot hand or throw ice on it.
Trestman will undoubtedly insert Cutler back into his role as the starting quarterback when that time comes. What many fail to realize is that Harbaugh not only decided to ride the hot hand last season but the 49ers head coach also decided that Kaepernick was the better quarterback for the team. Kaepernick was the long-term quarterback for the 49ers.
As great as McCown has been for the Bears this season, the veteran quarterback will be 35 years old at the start of next season. McCown is not the long-term quarterback for the Bears. McCown will also be the first to tell you that Cutler is the better quarterback of the two.
There is no quarterback controversy in Chicago and McCown is certainly not a Kaepernick redux from last season.