The 49ers and Ravens punched their Super Bowl tickets Sunday. But that route to New Orleans got a shot in the arm during the season with two bold, some would say controversial, moves that couldve rocked each team and blown up this eventual ride.
Oh, those Harbaugh boys.
As the Bears well know, Jim rolled the dice with the Colin Kaepernick-for-Alex Smith swap at quarterback right before that mid-November Monday Nighter. Nine starts later, hell be on the sports biggest stage. Smith was the safe route. The sophomore signal-caller from Milwaukee via Nevada had the higher ceiling. Only Harbaugh seemed to know how quickly he was capable of reaching it. And he probably hasnt yet, but hes gone high enough to get the Niners back in "The Big One."
In early December, John didnt like what he saw in the Ravens offense, either. His move didnt involve Joe Flacco but the (get this, Bears fans) the offensive coordinator. With three games left, Cam Cameron was out, and ex-Colts head coach Jim Caldwell was in. Now, the return to health of Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs, and adjustments to injuries in the secondary are certainly a huge factor, but Flaccos found another level under Caldwell.
Two moves by the Harbaughs to get the most out of their quarterbacks has wound up getting the most from their respective teams.
Rather than look back and debate whether moving Jay Cutlers trusted coach Jeremy Bates into a play-calling position above Mike Tice wouldve saved the season, lets look ahead and talk about Phil Emerys bold decision last week.
His hand-picked man over 13 or 14 other interviewees - Marc Trestman was not even interviewed by any of the other clubs looking for a new head coach. If not for Emery, Trestmans likely preparing for a sixth season running the Montreal Alouettes.
A season wasnt on the line like it was in San Francisco and Baltimore, but Emerys positive reputation (so far) as general manager is, for the NFLs charter franchise. Bears players are publicly buying in to the new man in charge but privately, they have to be wondering why no one else was interested in Trestman, and why hes been MIA from the NFL the past eight years, save for one season advising Sean Payton in New Orleans. Trestman was interviewed in Indianapolis a year ago for the job that eventually went to Chuck Pagano.
Bruce Arians would have been the safer candidate with the more recent proven track record in the league. These Bears can see what he did with the Colts and Andrew Luck, and prior to that, Ben Roethlisberger. But Trestman won the interview sweepstakes with Emery, and hell have to win the Lovie-lovin Bears players over, through OTAs and minicamps before they even report to Bourbonnais. And well see if Emerys bold, reputation-staking hire is the right one.
That brings us to next season. The Bears that got Lovie Smith fired won 10 games. Would fans - and the organization view anything less in 2013 as a disappointment? Would missing the playoffs again be more acceptable if noticeable offensive strides are made under Trestman, but a defense facing turnover at certain spots (while generating fewer turnovers) cant match what it did this year? That wouldve been difficult even if Smith, Rod Marinelli, and that staff remained intact.
But its something Bears fans should probably begin grasping. First-year turnarounds arent uncommon these days. The Harbaughs did it in their first seasons in Baltimore and San Francisco. Is that what youre expecting after Emerys bold decision? And is that fair? Thatll no doubt be Trestmans goal, but how much rope will you give the man if hes like every other first-year Bears coach since George Halas, and fail to make the playoffs?
What will you be saying and thinking a year from now if thats what happens?