Marc Trestman made right move

December, 12, 2013
12/12/13
5:13
PM ET

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Chicago Bears coach Marc Trestman repeatedly said Thursday that the plan all along was to put Jay Cutler back in the starting lineup once the quarterback regained health.

The problem is that nobody truly listened to what he’d said for nearly a month. But by saying it, Trestman and the Bears put themselves into a position where they absolutely had to insert Cutler as the starter as soon as he was ready, regardless of how well backup quarterback Josh McCown performed.

Despite the impressive numbers put up by McCown over the past four games, Trestman made the right decision to name Cutler the starter for Sunday’s game at Cleveland as opposed to going back on his word, which he’d uttered almost ad nauseam since way before Thanksgiving.

“This decision was made a long time ago: That when Jay was ready to play, he would play,” Trestman said. “That’s how we planned to do it. I look at it [as] Jay’s our quarterback, and when he was ready to play, he was going to play. That’s the same words I used a month ago, and there’s no change today.”

And if Cutler is truly the quarterback to lead this franchise into the future, what is the problem with that? After all, a major part of the player-coach relationship dynamic is the ability of both parties to trust one another.

So leaving McCown as the starter after publicly -- and repeatedly -- stating that Cutler would be the man again once healthy, Trestman would have damaged his relationship with the quarterback and set a dangerous precedent for the rest of the locker room, too.

Perhaps that is why Cutler said “No” when asked whether there was any doubt in his mind he’d be the starter once doctors cleared him to play.

“I think that is how it was presented to me. That is how it was presented to Josh,” Cutler said. “It was just a matter of when I could come back, what game, when I felt comfortable, and when I got cleared to get ready to roll.”

That's not to say Trestman’s move won’t be questioned if Cutler falls on his face in Cleveland. That's not to say I’m not already questioning it, because realistically, it’s probably a stretch to expect Cutler to return after a month out of football and toss the ball all over the yard without showing signs of rust against Cleveland’s seventh-ranked defense. It is possible Cutler could make mistakes and turn the ball over while working out the kinks, and ultimately put the Bears in a deficit situation Sunday that they can't overcome.

Let’s not forget McCown won two of his four starts filling in for Cutler, throwing for 1,271 yards and nine touchdowns with only one interception for a passer rating of 109.8, which ranks third in the NFL. McCown also filled in for an injured Cutler on Nov. 4 at Green Bay, leading Chicago to a 27-20 victory.

McCown, 34, leads the NFL with a Total QBR of 85.7, compared to Cutler’s 63.2, and at this point appears to be the quarterback with the hot hand, despite most of his success coming against subpar defenses. But in all honesty, would anybody have questioned Trestman’s decision to rename Cutler the starter in the aftermath of the club’s Dec. 1 overtime stinker at Minnesota?

Remember, Cutler was originally hoping to return for that game, but the club held him out so he could regain full health. The club held out Cutler again for Monday night's game against Dallas, and McCown lit up the Cowboys for four touchdown passes and rushed for another score in what could be termed the game of the backup quarterback’s NFL career. The performance made you easily forget about the team's losses at Minnesota and St. Louis with McCown at the helm.

“I’ve said all along my role as a backup quarterback on this team [is]: When Jay is healthy, he plays,” McCown said. “So it’s no surprise. You want guys on your team that know their roles and understand that. I understand my role on this team. It’s the backup quarterback. That being said, if Jay is healthy, he’s ready to go, I’ll support him and help as much as I can.”

As for Cutler, the quarterback sounded confident about his future in Chicago despite his contract expiring at the conclusion of the season. Asked whether he had heard about general manager Phil Emery’s remarks about not being inclined to use the franchise tag on him, Cutler nodded.

“I heard what he said about the franchise tag. It is what it is,” Cutler said. “I think Phil has a plan. Actually, I know Phil has a plan. You guys might not know Phil’s plan, but he has a plan.”

Michael C. Wright

ESPN Chicago Bears reporter

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