Bears head coach Marc Trestman made what may have been the gutsiest call of the year in the NFL when he went for it on fourth and inches on his own 33-yard line with 7:50 remaining, getting a first down that served as the Bears’ single biggest play of their win over the Packers.
That first down was a huge reward for Trestman’s gamble: It allowed the Bears to sustain a long drive that chewed seven more minutes off the clock and ended with the field goal that gave the Bears their final score in a 27-20 win. But it was also a huge risk: If the Packers had stopped the Bears, they would have needed to go only 33 yards to score the go-ahead touchdown, and even if the Packers hadn’t gained a single yard on offense they could have hit a field goal to bring the game within a point, with plenty of time left.
Most coaches would have punted in that situation. In fact, according to Chase Stuart of Pro Football Reference, Trestman’s call was the first time in more than two years that a team went for it on fourth down in the fourth quarter in its own territory in a game they were winning. And if you want to find an example of a coach going for it on fourth down that deep in his own territory while winning in the fourth quarter, you have to go all the way back to Bill Belichick’s famous failed fourth-down attempt against the Colts in 2009.
So why did Trestman go for it? He framed it as a show of confidence in his offensive line.
“They have done a good job of getting better each week,” Trestman said of his linemen. “Our guys worked really hard this week to prepare.”
Bears right tackle Jordan Mills said the offensive linemen were excited that the coach was putting the game on their backs.
“That means that the coach trusts us,” Mills said. “He had tremendous confidence in us.”
Trestman had faith in his line, but he also had faith in running back Matt Forte. And Forte had to do some nifty running to pick up the first down: Packers linebacker A.J. Hawk and safety Morgan Burnett both had a shot at Forte behind the line of scrimmage but weren’t quite able to get to him before Nate Palmer finally took him down after he had already picked up the first down.
It was a good play by Forte, but most importantly it was a brilliant call by Trestman. If Trestman had played it “safe” and chosen to punt, he really wouldn’t have been playing it so safe at all: There’s nothing safe about handing the ball back to the other team with more than half of the fourth quarter left to play. But most coaches would have punted if for no other reason than they’d be ripped by fans and the media (as Belichick was) if they failed to pick up the first down.
Trestman made a great call. And his offense did its job, and delivered a win for the Bears.