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Baffling play-calling makes you wonder about Mike Martz’s future

Offensive coordinator Mike Martz’s play-calling didn’t really help Caleb Hanie. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

Offensive coordinator Mike Martz’s play-calling didn’t really help Caleb Hanie. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Updated: December 30, 2011 8:20AM

They hold the elevator so assistant coaches in the booth upstairs can get down to the locker room after a game. The Raiders’ assistants were long gone. Seconds passed, then minutes. Finally, a security guard at Coliseum knocked on the door and reminded Mike Martz that the elevator was waiting.

The Bears’ smiling offensive coordinator emerged, briefcase in hand, so seemingly carefree that you half-expected him to break into song.

His quarterback’s first NFL start was a disaster. All Caleb Hanie had to do Sunday was not turn the ball over and the Bears win their sixth in a row. Instead, he throws three interceptions, and the Bears lose 25-20. The game ended with Hanie unable to throw a pass at the ground without drawing a penalty.

A few minutes later, after a disaster largely of his own making, Martz emerges looking like he just had a three-hour massage.

General manager Jerry Angelo and coach Lovie Smith are facing a decision that will help shape the franchise moving forward. Martz’s contract expires after this season. They can re-sign Mad Mike and maintain his relationship with Jay Cutler or they can tell him what cameras caught Cutler screaming at Martz earlier this season and start over with a different and hopefully more predictable coordinator.

Compelling reasons can be made in either case.

Cutler’s evolution has been as painful to watch as it has been for Cutler to endure, but it was finally paying dividends. It has been decades since the Bears have had a quarterback playing as well as Cutler was before he broke his thumb against the Chargers. Martz deserves credit for that.

The offense had scored at least 30 points in three consecutive games before Cutler was injured. Think about that. The Bears’ offense. Thirty points per game.

Just when it was looking like Martz’s offense could be a good fit in Chicago after all, a game unfolds like Sunday’s. Martz’s play-calling was as baffling as ever against the Raiders. A screen pass into heavy traffic when you’re already in field-goal range? Really? For every brilliant play call, there are three that make you wonder if they were drawn up after three too many cocktails.

The game plan called for matching Matt Forte up against the Raiders’ overmatched linebackers. It made all kinds of sense. Hanie could roll out and throw easy-to-complete passes and let Forte do the rest.

What happened to the game plan?

A time like this makes you wonder if the Bears would be better off with Mike Tice designing and calling plays. Tice was a college quarterback. His son is a quarterback at Wisconsin. He has done a commendable job patching together offensive lines the last two years and is deserving of a promotion. Surely he would realize when it was time to run the ball and kick a field goal.

Stability might be best for Cutler. He should be consulted. His input should carry weight. If that means outsiders say the inmates are running the asylum, so be it.

The roster has been remade with his offense in mind. Greg Olsen is gone. Martz has played a major role in selecting quarterbacks in the last two drafts. To hire a new coordinator means reshaping the roster once again. The new guy might not like fifth-round pick Nathan Enderle. He might want a tight end like Olsen. It would mean learning a new offense, starting over.

Winning in Oakland isn’t as easy as it was a few years ago. The Raiders are improved. People should be able to separate themselves from their jobs regardless of how consuming it might be. Nobody expects a coordinator to stomp around or sulk after a loss no matter how questionable his game plan.

But seeing Martz on the brink of whistling a tune while Bears and Raiders were shaking hands at midfield was strange indeed.

The elevator is waiting. After games like that, it’s difficult to decide whether Martz should get on or off.

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