I never doubted the Lions ability to lose. Monday night, at home against the Baltimore Ravens, they put on a losing clinic. The best wide receiver on the planet did his best David Terrell impression, dropping first down after first down and prompting Robert Klemko to explain his humanity to fans. Penalties were committed on what seemed like every opposing pass play. New ways to turn the ball over were invented on the spot. It became evident early Monday night the Detroit Lions had no chance to overcome the Detroit Lions.
What I did doubt – and still doubt – is the ability of the Bears to win enough. Because Sunday night in Philadelphia the league’s top rushing attack will face the league’s doormat rush defense. Because the week after, the Bears will need to complete a season sweep of the Green Bay Packers for the first time in what feels like ten generations. Can the Bears win their final two games and the NFC North? Absolutely. But Bears fans should understand that if Aaron Rodgers returns for the finale, the Bears will more than likely be underdogs in both contests.
How did they get here? How does a team with an historically poor defense find themselves controlling their own playoff destiny? (Side note: this is one of the dumbest phrases in existence. Destiny – by definition – assumes a lack of individual control.)
They got here because of Marc Trestman.
There are plenty of places you can go read X & O breakdowns of Trestman’s play-calling and dynamic offensive schematics. (I recommend Matt Bowen’s work at the fifteen websites and newspapers he works for now.) That’s not what I’ll be doing here. Because as good as Trestman has been down-for-down, utilizing the most impressive assemblage of offensive talent in the organization’s history to near perfection, he has been an even better captain for a ship that could easily have sunk at various points in the 2013 campaign.
- Faith in Players. Trestman began his tenure with the Bears by sitting Devin Hester down and saying, “You are the greatest return man to ever live. Go return kicks.” He responded to criticism after attempting an OT field goal on second down by saying, “Robbie Gould is the greatest kicker around. I trusted him to make the kick.” When fans wanted Michael Bush cut for a single poor performance, Trestman fed him the ball. When the media swirled around a fictional McCown/Cutler debate, Trestman never wavered. Listen to how the offensive players talk about Trestman and you’ll understand that there is a love affair between coach and players happening in the Bears locker room. It is that kind of love that leads Jay Cutler to say his teammates “rallied behind” him. And it’s all Trestman’s doing.
- The Josh McCown Thing. McCown had four professional seasons of equivalent snaps to this year. His TD to INT ration in those four years: 5-6, 11-10, 9-11, 10-11. This year? 13-1. His quarterback rating in those four years: 70.3, 74.1, 74.9, 69.4. This year? 109.8. This isn’t the case of a head coach getting the best out of a player. This is a head coach transforming a player. And I would argue there’s not another head coach in the league who could have gotten this level of production out of his backup quarterback.
- The Consistency. Lovie Smith never seemed to have a method to his madness when it came to in-game calls. Agree or disagree with Trest’s approach, it is a consistent one. And his consistency is met with applause by his sideline. No one questions why Trest makes the calls he makes.
Has Trestman had a flawless first season? Of course not. But his offense is the reason the postseason for the Chicago Bears officially starts Sunday night in Philadelphia. His style and demeanor are the reason a team with one of the worst defenses in the sport believe they can contend for a title.