TELANDER: Bears-Eagles could be vital or not too important
BY RICK TELANDER email@example.com | @ricktelander December 19, 2013 10:29PM
Updated: December 19, 2013 10:33PM
This is a huge game for the Bears.
Or is it?
‘‘We’re 8-6, and we need to progress and win,’’ coach Marc Trestman said of the Sunday night game against the Eagles in Philadelphia. ‘‘That’s No. 1.’’
And No. 2?
‘‘No. 2 is, winning takes us to a different place in terms of potential seeding [in the playoffs], which is critically important. So just leaving it at that is enough reason for how we’d want to play the game. Now, could that change? Certainly.’’
That’s Trestman’s word for the distractions and non-game controversies and ambiguities that swirl around the Bears, and every NFL team, from one game to the next. Noise may have little to do with X’s and O’s, but it has everything to do with psychology and comfort and must be managed with as much care as play-calling.
The unsettling part about this matchup with the Eagles is that there are scenarios in which winning or losing could be — for either team — if not irrelevant, then not very important. Not compared to what the finale on Dec. 29 would mean.
That is, if the Cowboys beat the Redskins, and the Packers beat the Steelers on Sunday, the Bears and Eagles will have their division-title hopes come down to playing those two winners in the last week of the regular season. And whoever wins this Bears-Eagles contest is meaningless.
Well, not exactly meaningless. But close.
The seeding in the playoffs would be at stake. That’s notable because, among other things, nobody wants to play on the road. And nobody wants to play in Seattle, ‘‘House of Deafness.’’ Which are possibilities with a loss. That’s what Trestman meant when he said winning would take the Bears to ‘‘another place.’’
It’s all odd.
You would expect this to be a monster game. That’s why it was moved from noon to 7:30 p.m., for the higher ratings. And because it got moved, the Bears get to watch TV Sunday to see if the 7-7 Lions and 7-6-1 Packers partially decide their own fate.
Sure, you could say, as Bears tight end Martellus Bennett did, that you just win ’em all and the heck with the rest.
But would anyone want to see a star Bears player go down with a season-ending injury in a game that does not contribute to making the postseason?
‘‘Yeah, it is,’’ said quarterback Jay Cutler, who had more noise flying around him last week than an industrial-strength leaf-blower. ‘‘But however it turns out, I think you want to get on a run going into the playoffs. You want to be on a winning streak and roll from there. That’s our mind-set. We’re going to play the Eagles as hard as we can.’’
It should never come down to strategic tanking in competitive sport, but sometimes — if you look at the big picture — it almost has to.
You might say, Just kick butt!
I agree. That sounds good. Sounds right.
But if the Packers win Sunday, and the Bears, knowing this, lose, say, Brandon Marshall, Matt Forte or Alshon Jeffery in the process of beating the Eagles — and still have to beat the Packers a week later — how do you feel then?
It’s all around. And Trestman has done a great job this season of managing it. Don’t get too high. Don’t get too low. You listen to him speak, and the cadence itself is calming. Yes, there is a thin line between calming and embalming, but Trestman has rightfully been labeled the ‘‘Quarterback Whisperer.’’ You keep the most important position on your team focused and upbeat, and you have done a special job.
The noise, Trestman said, never goes away. It was there at the beginning; it’ll be there at the end. It is, he said, with amazing astuteness, ‘‘the fun of it’’ because ‘‘everybody wants to be a decision-maker.’’
Of course, we all do. But without the ramifications or accountability. Oops, were we wrong last week when we said Josh McCown should continue as the starting QB? Yup. But our jobs didn’t depend on it.
Cutler gave kudos to Trestman and the organization for the communication that has quieted the noise.
‘‘A real even-keeled locker room, real even-keeled coaches,’’ he said.
‘‘Nothing else to discuss at this time,’’ said Trestman of the should-we-rest-some-starters? noise. ‘‘At 7 o’clock Eastern Time, if the situation needs to be re-evaluated, it’s open for discussion.’’
All quiet on the NFC front.