On the final drive of Chicago’s 23-22 victory over the Carolina Panthers, Jay Cutler connected with Brandon Marshall four times to set up a Robbie Gould game-winning field goal.
The biggest catch was on 3rd-and-3 from the Carolina 47-yard line. Marshall came across the middle and snagged a Cutler bullet for an 11-yard gain. Two quick plays later and the Bears were in field goal range.
Marshall gives the Bears what they have been missing for years: an elite wide receiver. He’s a big target with sure hands, deep-play ability, can run after the catch and more importantly, he can convert 3rd-and-3’s.
The absence of a go-to pass catcher has haunted the Bears for years. As prolific as Devin Hester has been as a kick returner, he hasn’t panned out as a quality receiver. Last season, Chicago’s top two receivers—Johnny Knox and Roy Williams—combined for four total touchdowns and just over 1,200 yards. In fact, the Bears haven’t had a 1,000-yard receiver since Marty Booker in 2002.
Marshall hasn’t had a season with fewer than 1,000 yards since his rookie season. This year he's on pace for more than 1,500 yards and nine touchdowns.
Simply put: The Bears needed Marshall. And Marshall needed the Bears.
In Miami, Marshall was the star of a rebuilding team. His stats were Pro Bowl worthy, but because of inexperienced quarterbacks Matt Moore and Chad Henne, his true potential was never reached. And his six years as an NFL wide receiver yielded zero playoff appearances.
A chance with Chicago meant a chance for a Super Bowl ring, and a chance to reunite with a quarterback with whom he had previous success.
Nearing the midway point of the season, Marshall is hitting his stride. His 675 receiving yards are good for fourth in the NFL. He’s on pace for a career high in yards and receptions. He’s everything the Bears have asked him to be.
Each of Marshall’s four touchdowns are good examples of his strengths as a wide receiver.
His Week 1 touchdown was a quick three-yard curl. Donte Davis of the Colts gave Marshall too much space and the 6'4" receiver made his first touchdown as a Bear look easy.
During Week 4, Marshall caught a short pass across the middle and showed off his ability to run after the catch, all the way to the other side of the field.
In Week 5, Marshall used a double move to blow by the corner and Cutler found him in the end zone on a 24-yard strike.
Finally, in Week 7, Marshall slid across the formation and found an opening short as Cutler rolled out.
Marshall has the speed to blow by corners for deep balls, the strength to catch balls across the middle and the size to go up for jump balls in the end zone. He and Cutler have found a groove and the two have proven to be one of the most dynamic quarterback/receiver duos in the NFL.
The Bears' schedule gets tougher down the stretch and Marshall will continue to see double coverages. But so far, Marshall is showing no signs of slowing down.