Nobody is penciling Matt Barkley in as the Bears starting quarterback in 2017, but the fourth-year pro is making the most of his opportunity.
Barkley braved the winter elements and first snowfall in Chicago this season to lead the Bears to a 26-6 throttling of the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday afternoon at Soldier Field.
No, they weren't the eye-popping numbers he posted in last week's loss to the Tennessee Titans when he had 300-plus passing yards and three touchdowns, but his performance against the 49ers was arguably more impressive if you factor in the weather conditions.
Barkley was able to rebound from a first half in which it took nearly 29 minutes to complete a pass, and finished with 192 passing yards, a 97.5 quarterback rating and zero turnovers. Barkley's numbers were a far cry from his counterpart Colin Kaepernick. The 49ers quarterback completed just a single pass for 4 yards and was benched in favor of Blaine Gabbert.
"I thought he improved. He eliminated any interceptions," Bears head coach John Fox said. "Both teams were pretty cautious early in that game as far as pass attempts. I know they called it snow, but it felt more like rain out there so the ball was hard to hang on to. You saw some true evidence of that early. I thought the way he handled the two minute drive right before the half, we had to open it up some and throw the ball.
"I thought he executed outstanding. I thought that was one of the better drives that he had to manage."
The victory was a major boost of confidence for a quarterback who looked to be out of chances prior to the 2016 season.
After two sub-par seasons as a backup with the Philadelphia Eagles, where he was ironically drafted by the head coach (Chip Kelly) that he defeated for his first career NFL win on Sunday, Barkley was traded to the Arizona Cardinals and was released last August.
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Barkley was signed to the Bears practice squad behind veterans Jay Cutler and Brian Hoyer going into the season. Season-ending injuries to the aforementioned quarterbacks catapulted Barkley into the No. 1 job and forced the Bears coaching staff into seeing if the California native could regain the form that once made him the No. 1 recruit in the nation coming out of high school, and a candidate for the No. 1 overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft before he decided to return for his senior year at USC.
Nobody is labeling him the next Tom Brady, but through three games with the Bears, that confidence has returned for Barkley.
"It's at an all-time high in this league," Barkley said. "Just knowing that I can play, that we can make plays as an offense. I'm not holding back, and they aren't holding back on what we are installing from week to week."
He's also starting to make believers out of the other 52 guys in the locker room.
"He's showing the world that he can be a starter in this league," Bears wide receiver Josh Bellamy said. "He can play. He can play football and we all knew that. He's just got to show the world that and that's what he's been doing."
While it's a small sample size, and the No. 1 goal of the Bears front office going into the offseason should be finding a long-term solution at quarterback, the Bears have to be impressed with what they've seen out of Barkley, who is set to become a restricted free agent in 2017.
With four games remaining, Barkley will be given every opportunity to play his way into a future roster spot.
"I know what we are capable of and what I am capable of," Barkley said. "Hopefully we can keep pushing this, and keep the same mentality that we did last week when we were coming off a loss of wanting to get better and striving to perfection."