November 25, 2014
It was an odd start for a man who radiates calm — a hazy, crazy, Bizarro World beginning to an NFL coaching career.
It was as if the offense Marc Trestman had brought from Canada had run into exchange-rate issues and was worth next to nothing by the time it got here. Not only that, he was relying on defensive turnovers, the currency that was used so often under his predecessor.
Lovie Trestman? Say it ain’t so, I know. But for the first half Sunday, it certainly was so.
There was a Bears timeout after the second offensive play of the day, just like the old days. There were two save-the-day interceptions by cornerback Charles Tillman, whose turnover jar is overflowing. There was an anemic pass rush that allowed Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton to torch Tillman when Tillman wasn’t intercepting him. And there was a Bears offense that only managed 97 yards in the first half.
Weird. We had been under the impression that this show had been canceled along with Lovie Smith.
And then something nice happened for the Bears. If it didn’t come from nowhere, it certainly came from next to nowhere. It arrived via the confident decision-making of Trestman and the feet of Jay Cutler. By the time it was over, the Bears had won 24-21 and Trestman had his first NFL victory.
The signature moment was the coach’s decision to go for it on fourth-and-inches at the Bengals’ 27 with 8:32 left in the game and the Bengals leading 21-17. Going for it wasn’t the risky part. Smith had gone for it lots of times on fourth down. But Trestman sent Matt Forte behind two sides of rookie beef — right guard Kyle Long and right tackle Jordan Mills. Forget about the wisdom of starting two rookies. How about having that much confidence in them after exactly one training camp? Against one of the best defensive lines in the league?
Answer: an eight-yard run and a first down.
‘‘Ballsy play-calling,’’ Cutler said. ‘‘That’s what Trestman’s about.’’
What, you wanted me to write ‘‘[gutsy] play-calling,’’ in the name of delicacy? Sorry. Cutler had it exactly right. Trestman referred to it as ‘‘a game-defining moment.’’ I think we can all agree on that.
The Bears took the lead for good a play later when Cutler hit Brandon Marshall for a 19-yard touchdown.
Two Cutler plays in the second half — a 30-yard completion off the run to tight end Martellus Bennett and an 18-yard scramble — softened up the Bengals’ defense. After their tepid first half, the Bears roared back with 226 yards of total offense in the third and fourth quarters.
I’m not sure we have any idea yet what Trestman is all about. It’s too early. But there was consensus in the giddiness of the post-victory locker room.
‘‘He’s pretty laid-back,’’ said cornerback Tim Jennings, who forced two fumbles and recovered one of them. ‘‘We’re still trying to figure out his demeanor, but he’s a great coach. He tries to protect his guys, put the guys in the right position — especially the offense — and I think he’s the guy that we need to just kind of get things going.’’
Bears players gave the former coach of the Montreal Alouettes a game ball for his efforts Sunday. Even though Trestman accepted it, he was having none of it.
‘‘Sundays are for players,’’ he said. ‘‘Sunday is the players’ day to celebrate the privilege of playing in the National Football League.’’
Au contraire, Monsieur Trestman.
‘‘He’s part of this team,’’ Bennett said. ‘‘A lot of time the coaches aren’t part of the team — they’re just coaches. We have a great staff, and they are really, really a part of what we’re doing.’’
The sweet nothings could go back and forth forever, so I’m going to cut them off. Suffice it to say, everybody’s happy now.
It certainly wasn’t that way early in Sunday’s game. The Bengals put together scoring drives of 97, 91 and 80 yards at Soldier Field and seemed to find special joy on third downs. The Bears finally got their act together in the second half.
It’s hard to say anything definitive after one game. For all the brave training camp talk, Cutler admitted he had questions as he sat in the locker room before the game, the biggest being, gulp, whether the plays would work.
He did not get sacked and threw just one interception.
Pretty good answer, for openers.