Bears driven to give Brandon Marshall his first playoff berth
BY PATRICK FINLEY Staff Reporter December 28, 2013 1:04AM
Brandon Marshall has eight NFL seasons under his belt as a standout receiver with the Broncos, Dolphins and Bears, but he has zero playoff games to show for it. | Tony Dejak/AP
Updated: January 30, 2014 6:33AM
Brandon Marshall’s jog crept to a fast walk Thursday.
On the edges of the Walter Payton Center’s domed field, he was asked about the playoffs — and kept walking.
The next day, the Bears’ star wide receiver ran off the field and stopped for a second.
‘‘What would making the playoffs mean for you?’’ I asked him.
He smiled and playfully smacked my chest with the back of his hand.
‘‘I’m good,” he said.
And he walked away, toward the door and away from the question that has dogged him for years.
At the end of his eighth season in the NFL, Marshall never has played for a postseason team — not in his four years in Denver, his two in Miami or last year with the Bears.
That will change Sunday at Soldier Field if the Bears can beat the Green Bay Packers to win the NFC North.
Marshall never has been shy about the topic, even if he has avoided it publicly this week.
‘‘He always talks about it,’’ wide receiver Alshon Jeffery said. ‘‘It’s motivation. As he always tells us, he’s got a lot of accolades, like making the Pro Bowl, but it’s one thing he’s missing out on.’’
His teammates want to win Sunday for themselves but also for Marshall, who has 94 catches for 1,221 yards this season.
Marshall might be the best player in the NFL never to make the postseason. He’s 13th among active players in career receiving yards. The 12 above him have all reached the playoffs — even the Detroit Lions’ Calvin Johnson, who has one playoff game to his name.
Those 12 receivers above Marshall have combined to play 91 games in 51 trips to the postseason.
‘‘I feel bad for him,’’ quarterback Jay Cutler, who started two Bears playoff games in early 2011, said this week. ‘‘An amazing player. Has been on his third team and has played on a high, high, high level. . . .
‘‘We’ve talked about it. We’ve mentioned it to some of the coaches and some of the guys. Everyone’s just shocked that eight years went by and he still hasn’t made the playoffs. He deserves it. We’re gonna do everything possible, and I’m sure he will, too.’’
Asked about Marshall’s desire to reach the playoffs, coach Marc Trestman turned to his work ethic, both physical and mental. Marshall has to change his positioning depending on the Bears’ personnel packages, so he has to know the offense better than anyone.
‘‘He’s very connected to this offense and what we’re trying to do,’’ Trestman said. ‘‘He’s into it. He asks great questions.’’
Marshall is far from the only veteran on the Bears with no playoff experience.
‘‘It’s not a big thing, but I can tell you this: The guys that haven’t gone are definitely motivated to go,’’ said fullback Tony Fiammetta, who has played for the Carolina Panthers, Dallas Cowboys and New England Patriots but hasn’t seen the postseason. ‘‘Everybody’s interested in the unknown — and definitely wants to get a shot to get in that tournament to get in the Super Bowl.’’
The fullback agreed to a two-year extension with the Bears on Saturday, becoming the second player with an expiring contract to re-up in as many days.
Fiammetta has watched playoff games on television but admits it’s hard to sit through one, knowing he could have been on the field.
‘‘Just to be sitting on the couch every year, it’s a tough feeling,’’ he said. ‘‘Having an opportunity to control your own destiny — to not have that happen again — is a great feeling.’’
Backup running back Michael Bush has played 89 games over six years with the Oakland Raiders and the Bears, but none in the postseason.
‘‘We all wanna go,’’ he said. ‘‘There’s a lot of us that have never been. So we’re all excited about the game and hoping we get there.’’
Defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff, running back Matt Forte and Cutler have two playoff games apiece. Tight end Martellus Bennett has appeared in one. Jeffery, in his second year, has none.
‘‘Some of them, their whole career they’ve been Pro Bowl guys, and they’ve never really been to the playoffs,’’ Bennett said. ‘‘So I think it’s important to them. You really don’t get these opportunities too often in your career. You’ve gotta seize the moment and make the most out of it because you don’t know what will happen next year.’’
Safety Major Wright, whose postseason résumé is limited to the Bears’ two games in early 2011, said playoffs just feel different.
‘‘There’s more at stake, he said. “It’s Week 17, Week 18, but you find a way to rejuvenate that energy and feel fresh again.”
Sunday’s game against the Packers with the playoffs on the line will “definitely” feel that way, he said.
“It’s just like a playoff game,” he said.
Win, though, and the Bears — and Marshall — can experience the real thing.