Football is a game of inches.
At one point or another, we all have heard this phrase from a coach or a player or a broadcaster who has watched football for the majority of his life.
But it’s not an empty cliché. It’s a truth.
For the latest example, look no further than the Bears’ bold decision late in the game Monday against the Green Bay Packers. The Bears led by four points and faced fourth-and-inches from their 32-yard-line, but rather than play it safe and punt the ball, Marc Trestman decided to go for it and call for a running play by Matt Forte.
As it turned out, big reward.
The Bears converted for a first down, prompting a marathon drive down the field and a 27-20 win that snapped a six-game losing streak against their oldest rivals.
Let the Bears’ offensive linemen fill in the specifics on the biggest play of the game. No lineman was happier than left tackle Jermon Bushrod, who stood and spoke excitedly about the play as if he were a receiver who made a game-winning catch.
Musick: When it’s fourth-and-1 deep in your territory, and the coaches tell you guys, ‘Let’s go get it,’ what kind of message does that send to the offensive line?
Bushrod: It’s an inch. This is what we’re here to do. We’re here to open up holes.
And, fourth-and-1, eight or nine minutes left in the fourth quarter, we have to convert. We have to. There’s no question about it.
The play call was perfect. We didn’t run it all day. We dialed it up. We just had to stick to our assignments, and we did a good job.
Musick: What exactly was the play call?
Bushrod: It’s an outside stretch play, pulling a couple people around just to get some extra blockers out on the edge. Because we knew that it’s tough to run up the middle with the type of guys that they have. It’s hard to get the movement that you want to get at all times. So it was in our game plan, if we had to go third-and-1, third-and-short, fourth-and-short, we had to get outside. And we executed.
Musick: And with all of the work that you guys put in during training camp and during practice, you must appreciate a chance to show it off on a play like that.
Bushrod: Damn right. Absolutely. I mean, that won the game for us, that momentum. If we didn’t get that, our defense would have held their ground and gave us another opportunity to go and win the game, but at the end of the day, we wanted to end it with us on the field, for the most part. And our defense did a hell of a job stopping them at the end, getting pressure. That’s what it’s about, man.
Musick: You’ve been in this league for a while. You’ve seen inches win games, right?
Bushrod: Yeah, I played here two years ago [for the New Orleans Saints] when we opened up after they won the Super Bowl, and we were fourth-and-a-couple-inches on the goal line, and that stopped us from winning the game. So I understand the type of players that they have over there.
But yeah, man, it’s a game of inches. It was literally – I don’t even think it was a real inch. I think it was like a half-inch. It was that short. I was talking to the ref. I was like, ‘Any other sport, you get a tie, it goes to the offense.’ I was like, ‘Come on, we need that right now.’ But you know, we made the game a little more interesting, and we got it on fourth and short.
Next to Bushrod, left guard Matt Slauson sat in a folding chair in front of his locker.
Musick: What’s going through your mind when you hear the coaches say ‘Go for it’ on fourth-and-short with so much at stake?
Slauson: Oh, it’s awesome. We love to get an opportunity to shine as an O-line. Because all of the receivers are making all the catches, the running backs are getting all the yards – that’s our time. It was great.
I thought it was a great call, a very smart call, because we knew that they were going to put all of those big guys inside and just dive through. So we played a little pin-and-pull scheme. I pinned, [Roberto] Garza pulled, and it was awesome.
Musick: So your job there is to just push your guy inside, down the line?
Slauson: Yeah. There was a guy lined up between me and ‘Garz,’ and I just blocked down, and [Garza] pulled around to the corner or safety or whoever it was and had a great block.
Musick: When you get that first down, did you feel like you had the game in hand?
Slauson: We had the confidence all game long. We came in here off a really good week of practice feeling good. We had all the confidence in Josh, we had all the confidence in our defense, we had all the confidence in ourselves. We knew that the fourth-and-1 was the only thing standing in our way. That was it.
A few feet away, rookie right tackle Jordan Mills stood in front of his locker. He had yet to remove his pads. I wondered what was happening on the right side during the play.
Musick: What’s your job during that play as Forte runs to the opposite side?
Mills: Cut off the back side and make sure there’s no penetration and nobody gets through. I saw after the play was over that Slauson and Bushrod dominated on their side, and me and Kyle [Long] cleaned up the back side as best as we can.
It’s not just about one person. It’s about the whole offense collectively. The wide receivers blocking, Tony [Fiammetta] getting the lead blocks, and Matt just getting the first down.
Musick: Who was the most fired up after that conversion? Bushrod is usually pretty low key, but he seemed pretty excited discussing the play.
Bushrod: Oh, yeah. He got pretty fired up. He gave me a little elbow to the chest.
It was cool, just to see our team all hypin’ and pumpin’, just to see our sideline react and the fans we had in the stands react. It was like no other.
Musick: Did it surprise you when you got the call to go for it? Because it’s a pretty huge gamble, considering what might have happened if it didn’t work out.
Mills: But you know what? In this league, if you don’t have guts, you’re not going to make it long. You’ve got to make the gut-check calls. Either you’re going to make it or you’re not, and coach Trestman knew we were going to make it, so he had the trust in our offense to do it. And we did it.
• Northwest Herald sports columnist Tom Musick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @tcmusick.