Brandon Marshall gets winning TD and some offensive balance
BY MARK POTASH Staff Reporter September 8, 2013 7:40PM
Updated: September 8, 2013 11:40PM
Brandon Marshall couldn’t believe his luck.
With the Bears driving for the lead Sunday — a first down at the Cincinnati Bengals’ 19-yard line and just more than eight minutes left in the fourth quarter — the Bengals blitzed Jay Cutler and left Marshall one-on-one with safety Reggie Nelson.
‘‘I didn’t understand it,’’ Marshall said. ‘‘Fourth quarter, put a safety on me one-on-one. You can only dream about that.’’
Marshall knew exactly what to do. He beat Nelson to a spot in the front left corner of the end zone, made a tough catch and hung on as Nelson tried to pry it loose — a 19-yard touchdown reception that gave the Bears the lead and made the difference in their 24-21 victory at Soldier Field.
‘‘I tried to sell the inside route, and he jumped a little bit,’’ Marshall said. ‘‘We had a clear lane. He actually did a great job of making up and almost got the ball out. So the ball bounced our way today.’’
That it did. Sunday’s season-opening victory was a dream scenario for Marshall in more ways than one. He finished with eight receptions for 104 yards. The Bears won. They won because Marshall came through in the clutch — three receptions for 63 yards in the fourth quarter and the game-winning touchdown. And four other players combined for more catches (13) and more yards (138) than he did. On the Bears, that’s a big deal.
In a tough victory that was hardly a masterpiece, the Bears seemed to find a formula that strikes a balance between Marshall’s prolific production and the Bears’ quest to spread the ball around for the best chance to win. Targeting Marshall almost exclusively is a hard habit to break — he’s that good. But for the offense to operate at maximum efficiency, all Marshall has to do is be there when Cutler needs him. And that was exactly his role Sunday.
Marshall wasn’t the whole show. He wasn’t even half the show against the Bengals. Of Cutler’s 33 pass attempts, Marshall was targeted 10 times. Alshon Jeffery (5-42), Matt Forte (4-41), tight end Martellus Bennett (3-49, one touchdown) and Earl Bennett (1-6) chipped in.
If this was just the first step, the Bears might be on to something. Sunday was Marshall’s 27th game with 100 or more yards but just the 11th time his team has won the game. His most prolific games have almost all come in losses, including his NFL-record 21 receptions for the Denver Broncos against the Indianapolis Colts in 2009.
Marshall is a typical receiver who thinks he’s open on every play and wants the ball; even Cutler acknowledges that. But Marshall said he was almost literally crying for someone to take the heat off him last year.
‘‘I think you guys heard me say it time and time again last year. I may even have had some tears in my eyes last year about it — get other guys the ball,’’ Marshall said. ‘‘Because when that happens, they really have to play true. They can’t double me as much.’’
Marshall did not achieve one of his biggest goals Sunday. ‘‘My goal is to be the best wide receiver on the field,’’ he said. But he was not. The Bengals’ A.J. Green had his way with Bears Pro Bowl cornerbacks Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings and finished with nine receptions for 162 yards and two touchdowns.
But this time, Marshall had the most help. And his team won. Hmmmm . . .
‘‘That should be comforting to him as well,’’ Cutler said regarding the more balanced production. ‘‘We had a lot of guys get touches. He went for over a hundred [yards] and had a touchdown — still a big day for him.’’