The irony of the Aaron Kromer affair is that what the Bears’ offensive coordinator told NFL Network reporter Ian Rapoport probably was one of the few truths spoken last week.
The way things go down at Halas Hall, I’m more inclined to believe the opposite of everything that was said in the aftermath — that Kromer didn’t apologize of his own volition; that Jay Cutler isn’t OK with it; that the episode has affected the locker room; that Brandon Marshall’s relationship with Cutler has been fractured; that the Bears aren’t OK with Marshall saying, ‘‘As a businessman, I would have buyer’s remorse, too’’; and, most of all, that Phil Emery had everything to do with Kromer’s apology rather than nothing at all.
Emery’s absence and silence in a moment of crisis was the latest red flag in a season that has cast doubt on the Bears’ direction and leadership. The least the Bears could have done in an embarrassing moment was to give the impression that somebody is in charge. And we all know by now that it’s not Marc Trestman.
‘‘All of this was handled by me,’’ Trestman said when asked about Emery’s role.
Unfortunately, it looked like it. The way the Bears explained it, Kromer outed himself as the source of a story that hadn’t even been published yet, then apologized for his role in a report that Cutler admitted he wouldn’t have known about if Kromer hadn’t told him.
‘‘If he wouldn’t have apologized, we’d be talking about the Saints today,’’ Cutler said, amazingly and succinctly putting the entire episode into perspective.
(Cutler was on fire in his news conference last week. His response to a question about his future with the team — ‘‘I think that’s a fair question’’ — was arguably the most telling quote of the day, given he has two more guaranteed years worth $34 million on his contract.)
Whether Emery knows it or not, the heat on him is accumulating. His acquisitions of Marshall, Alshon Jeffery and Kyle Long are being trumped by a series of missteps: He chose Trestman over Bruce Arians after the 2012 season, prematurely signed Cutler to a seven-year, $127 million contract and now is failing crisis management. The Bears created their own firestorm, and their solution is to ignore it and hope it’ll burn itself out. For the really big fires, the battalion chief has to show up. It’s a leadership thing.
Will Kromer survive? Will Trestman survive? The worst part for Bears fans is that it probably doesn’t matter. Another offensive coordinator is just another new voice Cutler is going to have to get used to, and that rarely ends well. Another head coach puts Cutler back to square one, and that rarely ends well, either. What defensive coordinator is going to take a job with the Bears, knowing that Trestman will be on the hot seat in 2015?
Here’s a dream scenario: Rex Ryan becomes the defensive coordinator, does a bang-up job and replaces Trestman as head coach. Buddy Ryan’s kid coaching the Bears? That probably wouldn’t end well, either. But at least it would be fun while it lasted.
WHEN THE BEARS HAVE THE BALL
When Brandon Marshall or Alshon Jeffery has struggled, TE Martellus Bennett (77 catches, 821 yards, six TDs) has filled the void. With Marshall out for the season, Jay Cutler likely will look to Bennett to make up the difference. Saints CB Patrick Robinson has played well since regaining his starting job, but he is vulnerable against the Bears’ big receivers.
IN THE AIR
Cutler stood tall during a tumultuous week at Halas Hall. Still, he needs to step up on the field as he did at the podium. Excluding garbage time against the Patriots, he has an 82.9 passer rating (11 TDs, nine INTs) in his last seven games. He’ll be further challenged without Marshall, who is out for the season. Marquess Wilson (five catches, 40 yards, zero TDs) and Josh Morgan (seven catches, 55 yards, one TD) move up in the rotation. The Saints are 30th in pass defense, but they contained Aaron Rodgers in an upset of the Packers, so the Marc Trestman-vs.-Rob Ryan battle will be interesting.
ON THE GROUND
Matt Forte (214 carries, 854 yards, six TDs) has rushed for 32 yards on 18 carries in the last two games, so there is absolutely no telling whether the Bears will use their most consistently effective weapon in this game. ‘‘We haven’t done a good job [of using Forte] over the past few weeks,’’ coach Marc Trestman said. ‘‘It certainly hasn’t been as consistent as we’d like it to have been.’’ The opportunity should be there against a Saints defense that ranks 16th against the run and allowed 271 yards (6.8 yards per carry) against the Panthers and Jonathan Stewart (20 carries, 155 yards, TD) last week.
WHEN THE SAINTS HAVE THE BALL
After getting destroyed by Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski, the Bears will be challenged to stop Saints big-play TE Jimmy Graham. ‘‘It’s tough to game-plan a player like that,’’ coach Marc Trestman said. You still have to cover him, though. Bears LB Shea McClellin, who struggled against Gronkowski, has been playing better lately. He might be a big factor here.
IN THE AIR
The Bears were destroyed by Aaron Rodgers twice and Tom Brady once already this season. Drew Brees (3,983 yards, 28 TDs, 12 INTs, 98.8 rating) is in that class and will give the Bears a chance to prove they have made progress. Brees, though, has struggled at times, including last week in a 41-10 loss to the Panthers fell behind 17-0 after running 3 offensive plays. The Bears’ game plan will be to put pressure on Brees with their front four, get him off his spot and not allow him to get into a rhythm. Marques Colston (46 catches, 706 yards, three TDs) and Kenny Stills (47 catches, 714 yards, three TDs) will test the Bears’ secondary.
ON THE GROUND
Mark Ingram (182 carries, 810 yards, six TDs) is a hard-nosed runner who punishes opposing defenses with a combination of power and speed. He has had four 100-yard games in the last seven weeks — including 24-172 in a victory over the Packers and 23-122 in a victory over the Steelers. The Bears were 10th in the NFL against the run until the Cowboys’ DeMarco Murray gashed them for 179 yards on 32 carries last week. Defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff (knee) is questionable for this game. Former T.F. South star Pierre Thomas has had limited opportunities (13 carries, 78 yards) in three games since returning from an injury but has to be respected.
The Bears’ ‘‘no noise/bunker down’’ mantra will be tested like never before after a tumultuous week at Halas Hall in which the most significant noise came from within the building. Bears players and coaches insist they are focused on the Saints after the Aaron Kromer/NFL Network fiasco. ‘‘Our focus hasn’t changed week in and week out,’’ coach Marc Trestman said. ‘‘Three good days [of practice]. I don’t see any difference in the way they’ve prepared throughout the season.’’ Some critics will say that is part of the problem. Either way, the Bears need to show they can get back on their feet and finish a miserable season with dignity.
The Bears’ long season on special teams continued against the Cowboys: Pat O’Donnell had a punt deflected, they had an extra point blocked and they committed two more penalties. ‘‘The discouraging thing was we had strung together a couple of solid weeks, and then we didn’t,’’ coordinator Joe DeCamillis lamented. The Bears added former Pro Bowl special-teamer Montell Owens last week. ‘‘He’s had some injury issues the last couple of years, but when he’s [healthy], he’s been a really good player,’’ DeCamillis said. Kicker Robbie Gould (quad) is questionable. Jay Feely will handle kicking duties again if Gould can’t play.