The Bears will play for each other Sunday.
Whether they’re playing for their coach’s professional life — Marc Trestman could be fired Monday — is a different question altogether. If a decision about the second-year coach’s future hasn’t been made already, it seems unlikely it would hinge on a Battle for Last Place contest in Minnesota. But a win wouldn’t hurt.
“The message is the same every week, regardless,” Trestman said Friday at Halas Hall. “We’re playing to win the game. We’re playing to be at our best. We’re playing for each other. Those messages never change. We can’t control anything more than that this week.”
The case against Trestman is statistically solid. Quarterback Jay Cutler posted maybe his best season last year — his 89.2 passer rating was a career high — but the two haven’t won together. When Cutler starts and Trestman coaches, the Bears are 10-15. Cutler was 35-23 starting under Lovie Smith.
Trestman presided over the Bears’ two worst defenses ever. The Bears allowed a franchise-most 478 points last season and have already clinched the second-highest mark; they’ve given up 429 entering the finale.
Even special teams, once a Bears stalwart, has bit the head coach. Robbie Gould’s missed overtime field goal in Minnesota last year was attempted on second down. Make the kick, win the game, and the Bears would have reached the playoffs.
In two seasons, Trestman has won just three NFC North games: two home contests against the Vikings — who finished last in the division in 2013 and will fight the Bears for the ignominious honor Sunday — and last season’s road win in Green Bay, when Aaron Rodgers was hurt on the first drive.
Balanced against the ugly stats, though, is a more pragmatic — and human — approach.
Trestman is a decent man, and, short of scandal, most coaches get more than two years to prove themselves as a head coach. The Bears hired the quarterback guru to stop the turnstile of play-callers that had worked with Cutler; were they to fire the coach and keep the quarterback, he’d have to learn a new offense yet again.
Then again, were Trestman to stay and hire new coordinators, what assistant would want to sign up for what could be a one-and-done season?
Trestman must have thought the scenarios through a thousand times.
True to form, though, his public comments have stayed eminently professional, focused on the game ahead.
“I think that this is a group that has come to work every day, focused on trying to be the best they can be, and certainly we haven’t,” he said. “We haven’t been the best we can be this year.”
If this is it for Trestman, he’ll be remembered as a coach who trusted his veterans, for better and for worse. He assumed the league’s third-oldest team would lead from within, not naming season-long captains. He figured they’d be able to balance outside interests, allowing Brandon Marshall to fly to New York for television and Lance Briggs to jet off to Northern California to open a barbecue restaurant.
Veterans, he said, have ensured the Bears haven’t quit, even after the Bears’ fate became apparent with a Thanksgiving Day loss in Detroit.
“Certainly, I’ve registered the disappointment that we all have for where we are,” he said. “But we have one more game — and we’re going to try to finish strong.”
That’s all he can do.
“At this point, we’re 5-10,” he said. “It hasn’t been good enough this time around, no doubt about it. I think everybody, coaches included, we’ve done our best. We’ve done our best all week.
“We’ll continue to play through it, fight through it for three hours on Sunday and stay focused on the things that we obviously can control. And that’s this football game.”