By Dan Bernstein
CBSChicago.com Senior Columnist
(CBS) — Marc Trestman had waited his entire professional life for the chance to make that kind of call.
He had coordinated NFL offenses before, but never with final say, and never with the ultimate responsibility for success or failure, except in a strange league far away. For the first time, his name was on it.
At 8:32 of the fourth quarter, the Bears had driven to the Bengals 27 yard line and faced 4th down and inches to go. They trailed by four points, having just come up with a signature takeaway after Tim Jennings popped the ball from receiver Mohamed Sanu. A Cincinnati timeout provided time to consider the options.
The offense was showing signs of stabilizing despite inconsistent run-blocking and a what-was-he-seeing interception by Jay Cutler, who nonetheless had responded with a pair of 15-yard strikes to Brandon Marshall and an instinctive 18-yard scamper on second and 20 from near midfield.
Even if the opponent is trying to give you the game, you have to take it when it’s time.
Trestman would deflect the credit to nominal offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer after the game, saying “Aaron did a good job with the play selection.” But that’s the head coach’s voice in Cutler’s helmet, and the head coach’s neck on the line. Nobody knows that better than Trestman after his time as such an apprentice.
In his first critical in-game decision as Bears head coach, he counted on four new Bears to take on a defensive front believed to be among the best in football. Offseason acquisition Martellus Bennett shifted toward the right edge, and fullback Tony Fiammetta set up in the backfield in front of Matt Forte. Not only was he undeterred by the presence of two rookies starting on his remodeled offensive line, Trestman instead ran right behind them.
Fifth-round pick Jordan Mills blocked down from right tackle as first rounder Kyle Long deftly pulled out and around, with Bennett successfully engaging the six-technique. As Fiammetta angled ahead to clear room outside, Forte timed his bounce to the edge to gain eight yards to the Cincinnati 19.
Next play Cutler found Marshall singled up against a safety, and hit him in the end zone for what would be the winning score.
Even with all the talk of his intellectualized offensive innovation, Trestman chose old-fashioned power stuff when it mattered most. It worked, executed by first-year Bears working for a first-year head coach. In the kind of need situation where a team looks to exploit a specific, perceived advantage at the line of scrimmage, it was keyed on the rapidly-developing Long, who is causing even the most skeptical observers to be open to possibilities for him not previously considered.
And this wasn’t a mere half of flashy offense versus the Raiders in the forgettable blur of the exhibition season, but solid enough play against a team believed to be a playoff contender primarily due to the strength of its aggressive, physical front seven. Something about the performance and the outcome actually matters.
Jay Cutler was not sacked in the game. There were no pre-snap penalties against the Bears.
You can read that last part again if you want. In fact, my laptop asked me if I was sure I wanted to type it, flagging it as a syntax error. The combination of timed passes, improved protection schemes and upgraded talent had a positive effect.
The Bears blocked, and eventually tackled. They won the turnover battle and were only whistled for four infractions.
Marc Trestman projected the demeanor of an experienced, methodical game coach, looking as comfortable as could be expected upon returning to an NFL that has evolved since his Canadian sojourn.
It was just a play, in just one game, but it’s a start.
“Ballsy play call,” Cutler said. “That’s what ‘Trest’ is about.”
A run right, run right.
- Cutler, Marshall Lead Bears Over Bengals 24-21
- Hoge: Armed With Protection And A Smart Game Plan, Cutler Delivers
- Durkin’s Rapid Reaction: Bears 24, Bengals 21
- Photo Gallery: Bears V Bengals
- Hoge’s Notes: Briggs Gives Trestman Game Ball