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MORRISSEY: Alshon Jeffery saves Trestman from another week’s worth of scrutiny

Updated: February 14, 2014 4:18AM



CLEVELAND — Marc Trestman’s day wasn’t going well.

“The Plan,’’ the Bears’ case-closed, double-bolted decision to start Jay Cutler once he returned to health, was looking sickly early in the fourth quarter Sunday. Cutler, making his first appearance after four stellar games by Josh McCown, already had thrown two interceptions against the Browns, one of which was returned by safety Tashaun Gipson for a touchdown.

If it were only that, maybe Trestman would have felt better. But there were pre-snap penalties and timeouts burned prematurely. A holding call wiped out a Robbie Gould field goal, forcing the Bears to punt. Cleveland returned a Martellus Bennett fumble for a touchdown. And as things fell apart, Cutler seemed to be in every security-camera shot.

Then came “The Play,’’ which gave “The Plan’’ a major makeover and saved Trestman from pitchforks and torches back in Chicago. And I’m still not sure how the Bears pulled it off.

With about 11 minutes left in the game, Cutler reared back and threw a pass intended for Alshon Jeffery. Browns linebacker Jabaal Sheard hit Cutler’s arm just as he let go of the ball at his own 46-yard line, and the pass lost some of its power.

With Jeffery behind him, Gipson stood like a center fielder waiting on a lazy fly ball. If he had yelled out, “Mine!’’ I don’t think the other outfielders would have waved him off. But he misread the ball. He slowed at his own 5-yard line, stepped back to the 4 and took another step to the 3 before mistiming his jump. The Immaculate Miscalculation?

Jeffery pulled in Cutler’s pass with the care of someone being handed a newborn, then fell into the end zone. The touchdown tied the game and changed everything for the Bears in a 38-31 victory.

“The Human Highlight Reel,’ teammate Earl Bennett called Jeffery afterward.

Was that part of “The Plan?’’ That somehow, some way Jeffery would find a way to make an athletic catch after a defensive back missed a two-foot putt, pardon the mixed-sports metaphor? If it was, then Trestman isn’t just a genius, he’s a hokey Hollywood scriptwriter.

The Bears’ victory over Cleveland raised their record to 8-6 and kept their playoff hopes alive. With Detroit not playing until Monday night, they had first place to themselves in the NFC North.

There was so much riding on Trestman’s decision to finish the season with Cutler, who had been sidelined by an ankle injury. The people’s choice was McCown, who had averaged 351 passing yards the previous three games. But Trestman seemed oblivious to the potential ramifications of going with Jay over Josh.

“I don’t look at anything as me having something at stake,’’ he said. “Every decision we make is completely within the interests of our football team and what’s best at this time.’’

Trestman doesn’t deal in hypotheticals. He has said that repeatedly since the season began. Fortunately, the rest of us aren’t burdened by such constraints. If Cutler had played in the second half the way he had played in the first (73.9 rating), Trestman would have found himself wanted, and not in a good way.

Come to think of it, just like last week.

“There was a lot of noise around our team’’ going into the game, Trestman said. “They hung together.’’

Afterward, the Bears talked about the “adversity’’ they had faced Sunday (poverty? homelessness? death of a loved one?) and their resiliency (better). They easily could have let this game get away, especially with the way their defense has played this season. They did not. And many other quarterbacks would have had a hard time dealing with the criticism Cutler faced last week for the crime of not being McCown. You might have thought he was the guy called up to replace Gandhi.

Cutler finished with a very Cutler-like line: 22 of 31 passes for 265 yards, three touchdowns, two interceptions and a rating of 102.2.

But everything started with the pass that a Browns safety had and then didn’t. Even if Gipson had picked off the pass, a roughing-the-passer penalty would have given the ball back to the Bears. But who knows if they would have gotten into the end zone again? Maybe the Browns hold on to their 24-17 lead, and the Bears never get any traction.

“Just making a play,’’ Jeffery said.

And saving a head coach from a ton of abuse. Trestman might want to volunteer to be Jeffery’s Secret Santa this year.

Email: rmorrissey@suntimes.com

Twitter: @MorrisseyCST



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