In 16 contests last season, the Chicago Bears managed just one fourth-quarter comeback. The team has two through two games this year.
In the past, when the Bears were down late in games, they had a tendency to unravel at the seams. In many contests under former head coach Lovie Smith, we saw late-game meltdowns that were ugly to watch.
When the team fell behind 11 points to the Cincinnati Bengals in this year's season opener, few Chicago fans held out hope the team could recover from a two-score deficit. Yet that's exactly what the Bears did, scoring 14 unanswered points to finish the game.
In last week's contest against the Minnesota Vikings, the Bears were down 30-24 with 3:15 remaining. Jay Cutler and Chicago's offense proceeded to drive 66 yards and scored the game-winning touchdown with less than 10 seconds to play.
For a franchise that has always prided itself on defensive play, one that took great satisfaction in 9-6 victories, it has been surprising to see the Bears' offense rally back in the fourth quarter of two straight games. Yet, given the history of head coach Marc Trestman, it shouldn't be all that surprising.
Trestman began his career in 1981 as a volunteer coach at the University of Miami. From that point, he went on to work with nine different NFL organizations, with four different stints as offensive coordinator. Except for a few bad years, Trestman has had success almost everywhere he has coached, including a Super Bowl run with the Oakland Raiders in 2002. Yet throughout his career he was consistently passed over for NFL head coaching jobs.
He became so fed up with the industry that, after a brief stint as offensive coordinator with North Carolina State in 2005, he chose to give up the profession. Yet he's a football lifer and when a year later the Montreal Alouettes offered him his first shot to be the head coach of a professional football team, he jumped at it. Sure enough, even in a sport that is vastly different than the one played in the U.S., it took Trestman just two years win a Grey Cup, the CFL's equivalent of the Super Bowl.
Few NFL coaches with Trestman's pedigree have been routinely disregarded as potential head coaching candidates. The frustration, after having so much success, must have been unbearable. Yet he fought through the adversity, stuck with his game plan and kept his eye on the prize, which is why he's currently the man in charge up at Halas Hall.
The same can be said about the Bears this year, who for two staright weeks have demonstrated the type of resiliency Trestman has shown throughout his career.
"[The line between 2-0 and 0-2] is extremely thin," Trestman said yesterday. "In the National Football League it's very thin. You can see it. We're two or three plays away from sitting here on the opposite side of both games, no doubt about it.
"You've got to play them all for 60 minutes and if you just keep playing, you hope good things can happen."
Every coach preaches the "never-quit" mantra, but Trestman is one of the few who can testify first-hand to the power of perseverance. He's a guy who's been put through the ringer, both as a player and as a coach. He's been through it all, so it's hard to imagine any in-game situation he hasn't witnessed before.
As we've seen the past two weeks, Trestman is firmly in charge on the sidelines – something no one could say with any confidence about Smith – and he stays cool under pressure. When you have a volatile quarterback like Jay Cutler, poise on the sidelines, or leading by example, is absolutely necessary.
And as a result, we've watched Cutler march his team down for two fourth-quarter game winning drives in as many weeks.
"[Cutler] is just cool, calm and collected," said Martellus Bennett, who caught the game winner this past Sunday. "I think that's a trust thing with guys that he has on the outside and the guys that he has in front of him. He feels like hey we can make a play. You don't have to stress. It's not like you don't have guys that can't make plays for you. You just feel like, we've got a chance and I've got all these weapons and these guys blocking in front of me, we can make something happen. So it's just like, he trusts me to make a play, he trusts Brandon [Marshall], he trusts the line to do their job and he can relax and just do his job. It just goes to a team effort and the coaches doing their job and everyone working hard to get better."
To say that Trestman's presence is coincidental in the marked improvement of Cutler would be naïve at best. Cutler's completion percentage (68.1) is nearly 10 percentage points higher than last season, while his 99.5 QB rating is the best of his career. He's stepping into his throws and he's not forcing dumb passes into double coverage. And when he's been called on to make plays, he's made them, something Cutler never did with any consistency before Trestman.
"He's so cool. I wish I was as cool as Jay Cutler," Kyle Long said after Sunday's game. "I was all fired up, and Jay was just like his heart was going two beats a minute like nothing is going on. He does a great job. He's our leader on the offensive side of the ball, and we'll follow him to the Promised Land. Today, that was the end zone."
People don't realize that, after losing in the Grey Cup his first year in the CFL, Trestman and the Alouettes had to rally in the fourth quarter of his second Grey Cup in order to win the championship. His team overcame a 27-11 deficit with just 10 minutes to play in order to win that game on a last-second field goal.
Even when everything was on the line, and things appeared dire and bleak, Trestman was able to guide his team to a title. It's far too early to tell if he can do the same with the Bears but one thing is for sure: under Trestman, no one is going to give up.
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He is in his third season covering the Chicago Bears full time. Follow Bear Report on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Bear Report Web site or magazine, click here.