McGRATH: Onus is more on Cutler to deliver than Trestman
By DAN McGRATH For Sun-Times Media December 25, 2013 10:56PM
If Jay Cutler and the Bears weren’t completely inept in Philly, Sunday’s game against the Packers wouldn’t matter. | Getty Images
Updated: January 27, 2014 12:47PM
Christmas is finally over. Thank goodness. Now we can get back to what matters: a football game. Not just any football game, but Bears-Packers — for the 188th time in the NFL’s oldest, most storied rivalry — at Soldier Field on Sunday.
It’s for all the snowballs in the NFC North. The winner heads to the playoffs, and the loser goes home. Only about 78 hours until kickoff as you’re reading this, so the pregame shows should be starting any minute.
Never mind that the Bears will be 9-7 division champions if they prevail, and the Packers 8-7-1 if it’s their day. Or that the Bears are coming off total humiliation in Philadelphia last Sunday, when their fate was in their own hands, as the pundits like to say. Or that the Packers have been truly ordinary in the six games they have played since losing quarterback Aaron Rodgers to a broken collarbone courtesy of Shea McClellin’s most significant play of the season.
Didn’t the Packers win the Super Bowl as a 10-6 wild-card qualifier after the 2010 season? Would anyone have bet on the aged Baltimore Ravens running the playoff table after a 10-6 regular season last year?
You get in the tournament, anything can happen. And if you believe that, I hope Santa Claus was good to you, and O.J. didn’t do it and Rich Daley was looking out for you with that parking-meter deal he negotiated.
I know, Bears-Packers is always meaningful, even when it doesn’t deserve to be. This game wouldn’t matter if the Bears hadn’t been astonishingly inept across the board against the Eagles, or if the Packers had planned better for the very real possibility of Rodgers getting hurt.
I was in the Lambeau Field stands as a spectator when it happened, and the atmosphere went from festive to funereal in a heartbeat as a somber Rodgers emerged from the locker room with his pads off, finished for the night and for who knew how much longer. The crowd realized what that meant: Seneca Wallace would play quarterback. Caleb Hanie, anybody? Josh McCown suddenly looked like Peyton Manning.
The Pack has since resurrected Matt Flynn, who is an upgrade in that he understands the system and has experience running it. But he’s not Rodgers. Plus, Clay Matthews has a broken thumb, Eddie Lacy a sprained ankle and Jermichael Finley a career-threatening neck injury, so the Bears can beat the depleted Pack as long as they don’t replicate any part of their deplorable performance in Philly.
And even a 9-7 division champ gets a home playoff game, so then what? There are no super teams when Seattle loses to the Rams at home, Denver loses to the Chargers at home and Carolina and San Francisco have trouble scoring. New Orleans looks dead in the water. New England always has a puncher’s chance with Brady/Belichick, but the Pats are as banged up as the Packers.
Arizona is the league’s hottest team at the moment, but previous failings might keep the Cardinals home for the playoffs.
If a miracle is a prerequisite for advancing, it’s worth noting that the 2006 Bears reached the Super Bowl with Rex Grossman at quarterback. The NFL already was turning pass-happy, but Lovie Smith’s team could overcome Rex’s limitations with a defense that thrived on takeaways and special teams that could decide games.
The Marc Trestman Bears have gleefully embraced the passing game, just as age, injuries, inexperience and incompetence rendered the defense unrecognizable — statistically, it’s among the worst in franchise history. As for special-teams dominance … whatever happened to Devin Hester?
Sunday’s game will be billed as a referendum on Trestman. With a loss, the Bears not only miss the playoffs, they’re two games worse than they were in the final season of Smith. That’s progress? Well, yes. Lovie had a winning record (84-66 in nine years), but he was an offensive dullard in a league that demands pizazz.
Pizazz? Marc Trestman? Mr. Monotone doesn’t exactly light up a room, but his grasp of offense makes him a better fit in an NFL age of air travel.
If the game is indeed a referendum, it’s on Jay Cutler. In his fifth season here, he has been given a coach who understands him, a line that protects him, a group of receivers that fulfills him. This is a game Cutler has to win if he is who we think he is, who we want him to be. This is Bears-Packers. It’s his moment.