When the Chicago Bears first hired Marc Trestman as their head coach, I recall joking with a friend about the new guy with Canadian ties. I said I sure hope he remembers we play with four downs in the NFL, not three like the CFL. Sunday in Minneapolis it felt like the joke was on us.
After blowing a 20-10 second half lead, the Bears were on the brink of losing when sure-footed Blair Walsh lined up for a game winning 39-yard field goal in overtime for Minnesota. As expected, the Vikings’ talented place kicker booted it through and Minnesota began to celebrate. But a penalty during the kick wiped out the field goal and the Bears dodged a bullet. Two plays later, Walsh missed a potential game winner from 57-yards out.
Chicago took over and promptly moved the ball into Vikings territory. Then it happened. The head scratcher of all head scratchers. Marc Trestman sent in Robbie Gould to try to win it for the Bears. Gould is one of the best in the business. He ranks among the most accurate place kickers the NFL has ever known. Winning games is nothing knew for the brand new dad who is usually “good as Gould” on his attempts. But here was the weird part…it was only second down.
It’s commonplace for teams to attempt game winning field goals on third down in case of a botched snap or other unforeseen circumstances. It’s also not unheard of to kick on first or second down if the field goal is a chip shot or if there is very little time on the clock. None of these came into play on Sunday.
Gould’s attempt was a long one, 47 yards out. The clock still had better than four minutes remaining. Why not run one more play to give Gould an easier attempt?
Matt Forte was in a groove, rushing through the Minnesota defense. The Bears running back surely could have given you a few more yards. Even if he didn’t, you would still be able to go for the win on third down.
After the game, Trestman offered his thoughts on the curious decision. “We were definitely in range and I didn’t want to risk a possible penalty that would set us back, similar to what happened on the other side, or a fumble of some kind, something unique,” Trestman said. “I felt we were clearly within range and could get the game over with at that time.”
Perhaps the better answer would’ve been “I made the wrong call.”
This is not Monday morning quarterbacking, or kicking as the case may be. My phone blew up with texts before the kick was attempted. Bears fans and others asking, “Why in the world is he kicking it on second down???” I had no answer.
Robbie Gould is a clutch performer. He has come through time and time again for his franchise. The sentiment toward Gould after the crushing defeat seemed to be sympathetic. His wife had just given birth to a new baby boy, the couple’s first child at 1 AM Sunday. He had to catch a flight from Chicago to get to the game. People felt bad for him.
The feelings toward the Bears coaching staff were something different. The loss delivered a serious blow toward the team’s dwindling playoff hopes. If Chicago does in fact miss out on the postseason, the strange decision to kick on second down will likely be on the minds of many in the Windy City.
It’s uncharacteristic of what we’ve learned about Trestman so far. The same man who has made gutsy calls all season, going for it on fourth down several times, seemed to play it scared during the Bears final game ever at the old Metrodome. Now, the team has four games to get it right and hope for lots of help in a talented NFC. Chicago is officially in four-down territory.