Monday, November 11, 2013

Trestman Sticks with Ailing Cutler, and Bears Stuck with Loss

Marc Trestman's honeymoon with the Chicago media and Bears fans lasted 8 games. 8 games, up and down the Bears roller coaster this season, where Trestman emerged relatively unscathed and still the darling genius behind the Bears offensive genesis. That is, until yesterday's game against Detroit, where his mind boggling decision making is the direct reason the Bears lost a winnable game that would have given them control of the division and thus their own destiny towards the playoffs. I was fine with the Trestman's gamble on fourth down in the first half, instead of kicking a field goal, but his management of the quarterback situation in the second half and his abysmal play call for the attempted two point conversion at the end of the game were horrible.

ESPN Chicago's Jon Greenberg nailed it with his article posted late yesterday:

Jon Greenberg ESPN Chicago Article

The problem for the Bears, here, was that it was painfully obvious to all watching that Jay wasn't right. He came out firing with a brilliant first half (particularly the first series), and the decision to start him looked validated. I was certainly fine with it the way he was playing. But when he came out in the second half, I dont know if he had reaggravated the injury, if he was tired/cramped from playing for the first time in three weeks, or if he had just rushed back too early, he just didn't look right. He was gimpy, he couldn't plant on that foot, and he was either sailing balls or throwing them in the dirt. He had zero mobility, and even admitted after the game that it limited what the Bears could do on offense.

Cutler, clearly not fit to play
Trestman should have recognized right there, from the first series in the second half, that the Bears' best chance to win rested with Josh McCown, not Cutler. I don't blame Cutler, as the last time he took himself out for the betterment of the team he was ridiculed for not being tough enough and was trying to tough it out to help his team. In this instance, Trestman needed to step in and do what was best for the team. He admitted today after looking at film that he should have taken Jay out of the game in the series prior to when he did, but that's faulty hindsight that fools no one. The FOX announcers couldn't stop talking about it, the Twitter universe was exploding about it, and the already intolerable in-game Facebook feed about the Bears was even worse. The consensus, from everyone with eyeballs on the game, was that Cutler was not fit for play. When you consider how well McCown had played in the previous 6 quarters, how do you not go to him there?

The worst part? The Bears' defense finally had given the team a chance to win the game. A victory would have put the Bears in the driver's seat in the NFC North, and with the way that McCown played when he came in the game, would have appeared to have been more likely than not. McCown came in, cold from not playing the entire game nor practicing with the first team all week, and subsequently led the Bears down the field for a touchdown and two point attempt that could have tied the game. Oh, and that two point attempt? Horrible play calling. It doesn't make sense to me, even if the draw call was the result of a packaged play where McCown checked into the run based on the defense. The Bears struggled to run the football all day, and have the envy of every other NFL team with the size of their receiving options. How do they not go for one of those?

The worst thing that comes out of this game though, isn't Trestman's reputation. He'll recover from this gaffe and I'm sure will be very successful with the Bears as he has been for the most part this season. I for one have sung his praises this entire season and I'm more than likely going to continue to do so. No, the problem lies with the effects of what his first real bad game as Bears' coach will have long term on the season. Cutler supposedly has a high ankle sprain and is week to week, with Trestman already stating that McCown will start next week. I don't necessarily believe that the Bears would fake an injury to cover up their own transgressions, but one has to wonder if Cutler sustained that ankle injury as a result of putting too much pressure to alleviate his groin. Regardless, the long term health of Cutler this season is in question, and it didn't have to be. That's on Trestman.

In other bad injury news, Charles Tillman is out at least 8 weeks with a triceps injury. While he wasn't playing particularly well anyways, and could quite possibly be an unfortunate cap casualty next offseason, it hurts not only because depth at every position on defense is weak, but also because his backup (Zack Bowman) is a massive step down in terms of quality. The defense had finally appeared to find some sort of steady ground against the explosive Lions' offense, but with Tillman out, that's yet another huge blow I'm not so sure they can recover from. It'll be interesting to see how this patchwork defense projects going forward.

Tillman's days with the Bears could be over
Tillman's long been one of my favorite players on the defense, and he's had a long, illustrious career here. I almost wish the Bears could find a way to restructure his deal and/or keep him aboard, even if it is at safety, but even Tillman acknowledged today he might have played his last game as a Bear. It's sad to think about, if he is in fact done with the Bears (and to go out the way he is right now), as he's another cog from the Bear's great defenses of the 2000's that endeared himself to Bears fans with his physical style, his penchant for turnovers, and his steady, nationally unheralded ability at corner. Just like with Brian Urlacher, players leaving at the end of their careers, or even retiring, is part of the sport and something we should all be accustomed to. But for us fans who feel that we've grown close to these guys, and have shared so many memories over the past decade or so with them, it hurts. However unlikely it appears at this point, I hope the Bears find a way to make it work

This lost opportunity, to borrow from Trestman's parlance, feels like one of those games you look back on after the season as one that should have gone the other way. The Bears have had a couple of those this season, which isn't necessarily Trestman's fault, but this one hurts the most. The NFC North was ripe for the taking, with a chance to take control. Trestman had shown us the ability to buck the normal football trend, and he had a backup quarterback that had shown the NFL world less than a week earlier what he could do in a pinch. I'm all for going with Jay if he's healthy; he's the best quarterback on the team and gives the team the best chance to win. But here, in this instance, the Bears lost a game they could have, and most likely would have, won. Let's hope that we have the opportunity moving forward to look back at this game as one bump in the road, not a pothole that sinks a season.