First, the Quarterback Whisperer had to make a controversial call: Start the ice-cold, taped-ankle version of Jay Cutler, and sit his fire-armed backup, Josh McCown.
Then Chicago Bears head coach Marc Trestman had to back up that call after Cutler threw two interceptions — both on tipped balls on high throws — at a critical tipping point of the game.
Eight minutes left in the second quarter, 10-3 Cleveland Browns. Cutler has just thrown his second pick of the game, this one run back 44 yards for a score. He had been lukewarm at best: one step forward, and two back.
Trestman sat on the sideline and, with half the free world (and the stands in Cleveland, which featured a ton of Bears fans) calling for Cutler's benching, stood undaunted. He was sticking with his guy.
This obviously has less to do with McCown, who has been a godsend and the only reason the Bears are even in the playoff picture, and more to do with Cutler, who — no question now — is Trestman's guy from here on out.
Had he benched Cutler mid-game Sunday, that would have been it. No more ping-ponging. Too late in the season for that, not with the playoffs hanging in the balance.
But Trestman stuck with Cutler and was rewarded. Not with perfect play, but effective play, in the Bears' 38-31 win that was a lot closer because of the Bears' sloppiness on defense and a late score to Josh Gordon.
Oh sure, Cutler should have been picked (it would have Tashaun Gipson's third of the day) on the 45-yard touchdown pass to Alshon Jeffery. It was a high-ball, made-for-picking throw, but also the kind you can make with the kind of season Jeffery is having. Just like the lollipop throw down the right sideline to Brandon Marshall for 41 yards right before halftime, Cutler was playing within the system and letting his bigs go up and win individual battles.
That's what Trestman wants from Cutler: Use your strengths, and use your team's strengths. Cutler did a lot of good things on his own Sunday, including move around the pocket better than anyone could have expected from a player saddled with an ankle injury. He also drilled some strong throws into tight windows, such as the fourth-quarter TD to Earl Bennett, his old standby.
And that's all that Trestman can ask from a first game back. Cutler moved past the picks and played within the scheme. even with room for improvement, that's to be expected. And it sets up a great opportunity for the Bears and Cutler to keep putting the doubters to rest heading into a big Week 16 game against the Philadelphia Eagles.
Both Cutler and Trestman passed big, hand-wringing tests on Sunday.
- - - - - - -