Marc Trestman received a lot of praise for his decision to go for it on fourth-and-1, and he should.
After a surprising 24-21 comeback win over a Bengals team intent on stealing the Lions’ crown for stupid and undisciplined play, Jay Cutler described Trestman’s decision and subsequent call as having testicular fortitude.
But Trestman’s biggest decision wasn’t that one. His most important call didn’t come there.
Instead, the big call came about 15 minutes earlier after the Bengals shredded the Bears defense to open the second half. Despite trailing 21-10 halfway through third quarter of the Bears’ season opener at home and his career-opener as a head coach, Trestman stuck with the run.
He and Cutler balanced the pass-run play-calls because that’s what professional teams do. The balance also prevented the sack terrors along the Bengals defensive line from teeing off on Cutler. It seems simple and smart, and there was still a lot of time remaining, but that never meant squat to the likes of the Ironheaded Mikes, Tice and Martz.
This is big-boy stuff. Matt Forte darted around and through a Bengals team that was sucking wind, then Michael Bush thumped a Bengals team that didn’t feel like playing much tackle football at the end.
Sticking with the run helped the defense by getting that unit some rest. It also showed faith in a defense that was giving nobody reason to believe. Andy Dalton looked like he was going to tie Peyton Manning’s opening-week effort, while A.J. Green seemed as if he was going to surpass Jerry Rice’s career in one afternoon.
No matter. Trestman made his decision. The Bears would still run in this passing league, and look what happened: The mix of offense created two long scoring drives, one in the fourth quarter, and a time-consuming possession that killed the idiot Bengals as it killed the clock.
While the offense was showing unexpected balance, the defense realized how pathetic it had been, and like that, the Bears ran 21 plays in the fourth quarter while allowing the disintegrating and boneheaded Bengals just six.
In the middle of that, of course, was Trestman’s fourth-and-1 call. The Bears trailed 21-17 with about eight minutes to go and were inside the Bengals 28. A field goal wouldn’t tie the score, and it wouldn’t necessarily keep the game at one score if the Bengals turned the next possession into a touchdown because they might try a two-point conversion.
Then again, you could argue the Bears defense had turned around and made Green disappear and even tackled the Bengals tight ends, so going for it was a no-brainer. But who knew with a rookie coach?
And then we found out. Not only would Trestman immediately decide to go for it, but he also decided to run behind two rookies on the offensive line. It was prove-it time for everybody, and there was Forte dancing outside for eight yards.
One play later, after the air-sucking Bengals had to call timeout, Cutler hit Brandon Marshall for the go-ahead and eventual winning score.
But the defense still had to play defense, and it did. And then the offense had to kill the clock, and it did. Did it ever.
The bang at the end of this stirring exhibit for new hope was the offense’s running out the clock stunningly and decisively with six minutes remaining. I’m talking literally running out the clock. Not counting taking two knees at the end, the Bears ran the ball seven of the last nine plays, the final six with Bush pounding and thumping.
Trestman decided the Bears could run the ball when it mattered. He decided they would run the ball when it mattered. Big call. The biggest, actually. Testicular fortitude.