Earl Bennett has a chip on his shoulder and so do the rest of the Bears’ receivers.
They’re tired of hearing Chicago lacks a go-to target. All they know is the Bears are back in the playoffs for the first time in four years and will host Seattle on Sunday in a divisional game.
They believe they had something to do with that.
“We always carry a chip on our shoulder,” Bennett said. “Last year, we carried a chip and it just rolled over to this year. We keep hearing the same thing — the Chicago Bears ain’t got no receivers, ain’t got no receivers. We all feel like everyone in this room is a No. 1 and we’ve just got to continue to go out and prove everybody wrong.”
Well, here’s their chance.
Whether the Bears decide to go after a top receiver is an issue for the offseason. The group in place has at least contributed this season, helping Chicago earn a first-round bye.
The top three receivers have combined for 137 receptions and 1,996 yards with 12 touchdowns, and while the Bears seem to have given up on the idea of Devin Hester becoming their No. 1 target, he’s back to his record-setting ways on returns.
That’s a huge development. His contributions on offense — 40 catches, 475 yards, four TDs — are more of a bonus, with the Bears leaning on Bennett and Johnny Knox.
Knox emerged as the primary deep threat with 51 catches for 960 yards, including 17 for 20 yards or more.
“He’s just becoming more of a complete receiver,” quarterback Jay Cutler said. “He’s kind of one of those guys you can count on. If he’s got one-on-one, he’s going to win. ... He’s done all year when his number is called, he’s in the right spot.”
The same goes for Bennett, particularly on third downs.
Bennett’s receptions (46) and yards (561) are down from last season, when he caught 54 passes for 717 yards, but he has emerged as the Bears’ top option when they need to keep drives going. He had 11 receptions on third downs over the final nine games of the regular season, all for first downs.
“I just try to make myself available, being quarterback friendly, just finding the spots and the holes,” said Bennett, who sat out the final regular-season game at Green Bay with an ankle injury. “(Offensive coordinator Mike) Martz has done a good job with the game plan, setting people up, putting us in the right position to be successful.”
Some of the biggest questions coming into the season centered on a group of young receivers who had shown some promise but were still unproven.
There was no established go-to threat, and many wondered how they would adapt to Martz’s system, where precision and timing determine a play’s success or failure. Fair or not, the perception in the past was the receivers did not hit their spots, leading to breakdowns, and when Minnesota cut Randy Moss in early November, that stirred a debate in Chicago.
The Bears were a mess at the time, dropping three of four after a 3-0 start, and at least some fans thought they should go after the controversial receiver. Instead of taking a big chance, they took a good look at what they were doing during their off week.
They cut back on the deep drops by Cutler, who was taking a pounding, and committed to the run. They also figured out a rotation on the offensive line.
That reduced the wear and tear on Cutler and kept defenses off-balance, which in turn created openings on the ground and in the air.
The receivers did their part, particularly Knox and Bennett. Now, they’re about to get their first taste of the postseason.
“Both these receivers made enormous strides,” Martz said. “(Receivers coach Darryl Drake) has done a great job of the details; I’ve never been around a receivers coach like Darryl who’s so detail-oriented, that really understands what the quarterback’s trying to do. You tell those guys you have to play this game through the eyes of the quarterback, and our guys, I think, certainly do those things.”
For Bennett, these are busy times.
Along with preparing for the game, he was getting ready for the birth of his first child, a son. So he had plenty on his mind to go with that chip on the shoulder.
“There are a lot of guys who wish they were on this team,” Bennett said. “Everybody in here plays together. Nobody worries about who’s the No. 1 receiver. Nobody worries about statistics. We just go out, play hard. If we win, that’s all that matters.”