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Musick: Don’t outsmart yourself, play to win

Chicago Bears head coach Marc Trestman watches from the sidelines in the fourth quarter of an NFL football game against the Cleveland Browns, Sunday, Dec. 15, 2013, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/David Richard)
Chicago Bears head coach Marc Trestman watches from the sidelines in the fourth quarter of an NFL football game against the Cleveland Browns, Sunday, Dec. 15, 2013, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/David Richard)

LAKE FOREST – After an agonizing, palm-to-forehead type of loss against the Minnesota Vikings three weeks ago, the Bears could have gone into hibernation.

First-year coach Marc Trestman could have let an overtime blunder spoil his season. The atmosphere in the locker room could have turned sour.

None of this happened. Give Trestman credit for calmly providing stability.

“That’s just the type of coach he is,” running back Matt Forte said Thursday in a jubilant locker room at Halas Hall, where rap music blared and players sang along. “At this level of football, you don’t really see too many coaches who are screaming in guys’ faces or anything like that. They really do treat you like a grown man, and you respond to that better than somebody screaming in your face.”

It’s important to note Trestman’s coaching strengths because he clearly has many.

It also is important to scrutinize Trestman’s decisions as the playoffs approach.

On Sunday night, the Bears (8-6) will visit the Philadelphia Eagles (8-6) in a game that could mean very much or very little depending on the day’s events. Everything is hypothetical at this point, but it doesn’t mean we cannot consider the possibilities.

Long story short, part I: If the Detroit Lions lose to the New York Giants and the Green Bay Packers beat the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday afternoon, then the Bears’ game in Philadelphia will not affect the NFC North race. In this scenario, the winner of the regular-season finale between the Bears and Packers on Dec. 29 at Soldier Field would win the division.

Long story short, part II: If both the Lions and Packers lose their games, then the Bears can clinch the NFC North with a win.

Long story short, part III: No matter what, the Bears cannot be
eliminated from playoff contention based on Sunday’s games.

Clear as mud?

Amid so much uncertainty, Trestman would have been best served to offer clarity. Instead, he opened the door to speculation.

“It’s not a hypothetical to answer that we’re 8-6 and we need to continue to progress and win,” Trestman said. “That’s No. 1. No. 2 is winning does take us to a different place in terms of potential seed, which is critically important. So just leaving at that is enough to reason out how we would want to play the game.

“Now, could that change? Certainly.

“But right now, we’re focused on winning a game. And I don’t think there’s really anything else to discuss at this time. And at 7 o’clock eastern time Sunday night, if the situation needs to be reevaluated again, it’s open for discussion.”

No discussion.

Play your starters. Beat the Eagles. Period.

Trestman’s intentions are good, and by no means was he carelessly looking forward or disrespecting the Eagles. He was offering an honest answer to a timely question, one that may or may not prove to be prophetic as darkness falls Sunday.

Intelligence is a gift, but it also can be a curse. Because smart people can overthink certain situations. They can be too geeky for their own good.

At times, Trestman has fit this profile. See: field goal attempt on second down.

If recent NFL history has shown anything, it’s that teams do not help themselves by playing it safe late in the season. Remember the 2009 Indianapolis Colts? They won their first 14 games and decided to take their foot off of the gas to stay healthy for the playoffs. Remember that season? The champion New Orleans Saints sure do.

It’s a high-profile example, but not the only one.

As Trestman said, the Bears’ potential playoff seeding could be at stake Sunday. A win could clear the path to a No. 3 playoff seed, which as of now would mean a home game against the San Francisco 49ers. A loss could push the Bears toward a No. 4 seed, which as of now would mean a home game against the Carolina Panthers.

Will those scenarios change? Probably. That’s what makes the NFL great.

So forget the math, coach.

Listen to your quarterback.

“However it turns out, I think you want to get on a run going into the playoffs,” Jay Cutler said. “You want to be playing your best football.

“You don’t want to lose, lose, get in the playoffs. You want to be on a winning streak when you get into the playoffs and kind of roll from there.”

Preach on.

• Northwest Herald sports columnist Tom Musick can be reached at and on Twitter @tcmusick.

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