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Marion Barber doesn’t stick around to face music

The Broncos’ Wesley Woodyard strips ball from Bears running back MariBarber overtime. | Getty Images

The Broncos’ Wesley Woodyard strips the ball from Bears running back Marion Barber in overtime. | Getty Images

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Updated: January 13, 2012 8:18AM



DENVER — Marion Barber’s locker looked like a teeny, tiny ghost town. Aside from a gray T-shirt hanging from a hook, it was a desolate place. It was almost as empty as the feeling the Bears had in the pit of their stomachs.

By the time reporters were let into the locker room Sunday, Barber, his game-changing fumble and his severe case of brain lock were long gone. It should have been the time for the veteran running back to stand up and take responsibility for what happened Sunday, no matter how allergic he is to public speaking.

Instead, it was left to his teammates to do it for him.

‘‘Marion was the reason we were in the game in the first place,’’ receiver Devin Hester said. ‘‘[The fumble] was just a mistake; everybody makes mistakes. It was just Marion’s mistake that stood out.’’

There wasn’t a higher power involved in the Denver Broncos’ 13-10 overtime victory Sunday. Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow had a wonderful fourth quarter and overtime, but he and whatever forces you want to ascribe to him took a backseat to Barber’s mistakes.

‘You can’t do that’

He was the hero/culprit, depending on your outlook and loyalties. As bizarre as it sounds, his worse sin wasn’t his overtime fumble as the Bears were driving for what would have been the winning points.

The greater transgression came with the Bears leading 10-7 coming out of the two-minute warning in the fourth quarter. Barber took a handoff on second down and ran left. The Broncos had no timeouts left, and all Barber had to do was fall down inbounds and the clock would have kept ticking.

Instead, he bulled his way out of bounds. How much precious time did that cost the Bears? Thirty-five seconds? Forty?

Going out of bounds took a mere five seconds off the clock, a development that later would give the Broncos and Tebow more time to move the ball and give Matt Prater enough time to attempt an altitude-aided 59-yard field goal with eight seconds left.

And you knew what was going to happen before it happened, didn’t you? Prater’s kick was good, the game staggered to overtime and Tebow’s acolytes were all atingle.

Why, why, why, Marion Barber?

He wasn’t around afterward to say.

‘‘He was just trying to make something happen,’’ Hester said. ‘‘I don’t think he did it on purpose. He was just trying to get extra yards.’’

If that doesn’t do it for you, this might from Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey, who said the game was ‘‘pretty much’’ over had Barber stayed inbounds: ‘‘He’s a veteran. He knows better. You can’t do that.’’

In overtime, it wasn’t the hand of God that caused Barber to fumble; it was the hand of Broncos linebacker Wesley Woodyard. The Bears were at the Broncos’ 33 when it happened. Bears kicker Robbie Gould already had booted a 57-yard field goal. The game was over. Again.

Except that it wasn’t.

Sitck a fork in Bears

Barber fumbled, and the Broncos’ Elvis Dumervil recovered. Tebow took over and moved his team 33 yards, getting Prater close enough for a 51-yard field goal and the victory.

At 7-6, the Bears can say goodbye to any playoff hopes they might have had. Oh, coach Lovie Smith will say it’s all still right there in front of them, but the game Sunday should disabuse the more clear-thinking among us that the Bears are alive.

There are many reasons why they’re not, the biggest being the absences of Jay Cutler and Matt Forte because of injuries. Backup quarterback Caleb Hanie played as nondescript a game as you can play Sunday, and it should have been enough to win. A better quarterback wouldn’t have allowed the game to get to Tebow Time. That’s a discussion for another day.

In the first three quarters, Tebow completed 3 of 16 passes for 45 yards, though his teammates dropped passes as though the football were a subpoena. In the fourth quarter and overtime, he was 18-for-24 for 191 yards and a touchdown.

Yet the Bears were in no mood to say Tebow won the game for the Broncos.

‘‘We gave it away,’’ Hester said. ‘‘We were up 10 points, right? We just couldn’t finish it.’’

Blame Barber for that, not that you’ll hear him do it.

The Bears will argue that he rarely talks with the media and that his quick escape from the locker room was consistent with his personal policy. Baloney. One wrong doesn’t make another one right.



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