By Adam Hoge–
SOLDIER FIELD (CBS) — The stage was set for judgment.
Win or lose, the Bears’ final drive Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings was going to reflect either positively or negatively on Jay Cutler.
Is he a changed quarterback? Has he matured? Can he handle the pressure?
But the truth is, the Bears’ 66-yard game-winning march down the field in Sunday’s 31-30 win over the Vikings said just as much about head coach Marc Trestman as it did Jay Cutler.
After all, Trestman was brought here for Jay Cutler and the coach was the one calling the shots on the drive.
It’s safe to say that together, they got the job done.
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The credit for Trestman started when his defense was still on the field. He saved at least a minute by calling timeouts No. 1 and No. 2 when the Vikings were inside the six-yard line trying to ice the game. By doing so, he left his offense three minutes and eight seconds to work with — plenty of time when you are well rehearsed with a sound game-plan.
“We have, at the line, two minute calls, very universal throughout the league,” Trestman explained after the game. “I have a set of plays that we can call with whatever personnel grouping that we have, so we try to stay with that because we can’t move people on and off the field.”
But Trestman still had one timeout in his pocket, so he started the drive with two tight ends. When the first play went incomplete though, he changed to a three wide receiver set and stuck with it the rest of the drive.
“We have a selection of two minute plays. Now, when the clock stops, then you have time to pull things out of your call sheet that you can run,” Trestman said.
So essentially every play that was run with the clock running was scripted. But if the clock stopped, Trestman was able to go to the card and pick something based on what he had seen throughout the game from the Vikings’ defense.
Amazingly, because it was run so well, the Bears were able to run 10 plays in the drive that lasted 3:05. Six of those plays were run with the clock stopped, allowing Trestman more time to pick and choose based on what he was seeing. The Bears never used their final timeout, benefitting from the two-minute warning and a replay review of an Alshon Jeffery reception.
If there was anything to criticize on the drive, it was that the Bears didn’t get an extra play off before the two minute warning, but the offense — and specifically Cutler — was so calm and collected that it didn’t matter.
“They’re going to be as calm as I am and I try to stay relatively calm out there, especially in the fourth quarter,” Cutler said.
Thus, he just stayed focused on the plan.
“We just wanted him executing the play,” Trestman said. “Whatever play was called, executing. We tried to mix it up. Go to different guys, give guys chances to make plays. Try to find soft spots in the defense.”
As it turned out, they found a specific soft spot multiple times in the game. And ultimately, it led to the game-winning 16-yard touchdown pass to Martellus Bennett with 10 seconds left.
Staring at a 3rd-and-10 from the Vikings’ 16-yard line, the Bears knew they had two shots to the end zone. Because the clock was stopped following an incompletion, Trestman was able to go to the play card and pick something that they ran multiple times in the game — including on a first quarter touchdown to Bennett.
“We threw that combination on them a few times,” Cutler said. “On the pick ball it was that same combination route we ran at them. We didn’t know if we were going to get the look or no, but the corner came in with Earl (Bennett) and the safety stayed, kind of inside, so the only place to put it was to the back shoulder and turn him and make a play.”
Cutler made the play. He threw it perfectly to the back shoulder and his tight end pulled it in for the win.
“The play is designed to try to squeeze the corner and open up an outside lane and if he squeezes to cover the wide receiver, then the outside lane is available,” Trestman said. “It was going to be a tight throw anyway, but the coverage was right for the play, but still they had to execute the play.”
The head coach wasn’t sure that the play was actually going to happen though.
“I was just glad he called it because I didn’t know if he heard me or not,” Trestman said. “So I thought actually when he called it that he may not of heard the play because I wasn’t sure about how we were lined up. I couldn’t see it. But I’m glad he called it and I’m glad it worked out. It worked out well for our football team.”
Calling it was easy for Cutler. He had missed an opportunity on the same look with Martellus Bennett earlier in the game and they knew it would be there with the right coverage.
“We ran that play earlier in the game and I was wide open down the sideline and Cutty missed me and I was like, ‘Hey man, what happened?’ So we could have scored earlier, but we’ve been working on it,” Bennett said. “After the play, me and Cutty got together and talked and we were like if he covers me like this, just throw it back shoulder and I’ll go up and make the catch.”
That’s two weeks in a row where extra communication between Cutler and his new tight end resulted in a touchdown. And if you’ve been paying attention to Cutler’s tenure in Chicago, you know communication has not always been a strong point of the Bears’ offense.
Enter Marc Trestman. Sunday’s 10-play, 66-yard, game-winning touchdown drive in just three minutes and five seconds was an exhibition of communication, calmness and most importantly, execution.
And it all started with the head coach.
Adam Hoge covers the Bears for CBSChicago.com and is a frequent contributor to 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter at @AdamHoge.