PHILADELPHIA — Spotted in the visitors’ locker room at Lincoln Financial Field late Sunday night: Marc Trestman in a pow-wow with Jay Cutler and Josh McCown lasting several minutes.
After the Bears were blown out by the Eagles, 54-11, squandering an opportunity to clinch the NFC North, you could only imagine the things being said between the head coach, the starting quarterback and the backup-turned starter-turned-backup. Except …
“It was really positive,” McCown said.
Positive? You’d question his truthfulness but for the fact the three men really did look to be enjoying their conversation. Cutler, the starter, laughed as he buttoned his dress shirt and tucked it into his pants. McCown was smiling, too. Forget the 24-hour rule to get over losses; this was more like a 30-minute rule.
Here was the Bears’ story, and they were sticking to it: This game was a glitch they can quickly erase in time for next week’s home game against the Packers, the all-or-nothing Week 17 showdown that will now decide the division and which team extends its season. Receiver Brandon Marshall, doing a TV interview with a local NBC affiliate outside the locker room, turned the spin saccharine, saying it will be “sweeter” to lock up the NFC North crown back at home.
No, what would have been sweetest was walking through the door left wide open by the self-imploding Lions and the Aaron Rodgers-less Packers, who each lost before Bears-Eagles kickoff. There was no official announcement in the Bears locker room that they were now playing for the division Sunday night, but word spread. “We were all pumped,” left guard Matt Slauson said. “We were all juiced up, ready to roll.”
Players contend that too much is made of this kind of motivation; once the game is in play, it’s decided by talent and game plan and execution. “The first three-and-out, you don’t jog off and go, ‘Oh, we’ve got to get this; it’s for the division,’ ” McCown said. But it’s nonetheless perplexing that in a game when the Bears had much more to win than the Eagles—before kickoff, it was known that the NFC East race will be settled between the Cowboys and Eagles in Week 17—they rationalized the defeat by saying they didn’t really lose anything.
Nothing but an opportunity, which, ironically, is what Trestman repeatedly tells his players is the only thing they’re guaranteed. And not only did the Bears whiff on an opportunity, they whiffed in a way that, at this time of year, makes you wonder: Is this really a playoff team?
Chicago let the Eagles gain 289 yards on the ground, allowing 8 yards per carry, and 514 yards overall. Eagles quarterback Nick Foles completed a franchise-record 84 percent of his passes. Cutler was pressured all night and sacked five times, and despite the Bears’ collection of offensive weapons like Marshall, Alshon Jeffery and Matt Forte, they needed three full quarters to find the end zone.
Trestman’s decision to start Cutler over McCown, who passed for 13 touchdowns and one interception while Cutler missed parts of seven games with injuries, has been under the microscope. But Trestman indicated last night Cutler will start Week 17 against the Packers. McCown said he was “frustrated” for Cutler and Trestman when the Bears fell into a 24-0 hole last night, as any teammate would be, but the team dynamic wouldn’t work if he were clamoring to play.
“They made a decision, and I believe it was the right decision,” McCown said. “It would be kind of double-edged for me to say, ‘Hey, I think you guys are smart for playing me (when Cutler was hurt) or for signing me back in April, but now I think you’re stupid.’ They don’t all of a sudden just become not smart. They are smart, and they make decisions. I trust their decisions.”
The Bears’ sluggish start and early three-score deficit forced them to scrap their offensive game plan. They moved away from a strong ground game behind Forte, and had to enter into the two-minute offense as early as the second quarter. The Eagles took advantage of one-on-one blocks in pass sets to tee off on Cutler, pummeling him as he dropped back 40 times. The game devolved into “street ball,” as Cutler put it, and the Bears couldn’t keep up with Chip Kelly’s outfit.
But here was more rationalization from the Bears: Next week’s game can and will have a different dynamic. They cited, oddly enough, their vanquishers, who were dealt a 48-30 loss by the three-win Vikings just the week before. This was just one of the talking points consistently repeated around the locker room last night. Among the others: We’re going to throw the tape in the garbage. … We’ll enjoy Christmas with our families and come back refreshed. … If you had told us at the start of the season we’d be playing for the division Week 17, we’d take it.
One game for the division and the right to host a first-round playoff game were enough to scrub the Bears locker room of any anguish Sunday night—save for when right tackle Jordan Mills slipped off the stool at his locker and clumsily landed on his forearm. But no matter how hastily the Bears cleared out of Philadelphia, this question will follow them back to Chicago: Is a meaningless Week 16 game really that meaningless?