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Alshon Jeffery’s TD catch further illustrates his emerging excellence

Updated: December 15, 2013 11:23PM



CLEVELAND — Teammates literally were bowing down to Alshon Jeffery on Sunday.

‘‘He’s the human highlight reel, man,’’ wide receiver Earl Bennett said after Jeffery’s spectacular and improbable 45-yard touchdown catch propelled the Bears to a 38-31 victory over the Cleveland Browns on Sunday at FirstEnegy Stadium. ‘‘It was an amazing catch.’’

When Jay Cutler’s pass for Jeffery from midfield floated through the air like a high pop-up or a ‘‘Hail Mary,’’ Browns safety Tashaun Gipson had position in front of Jeffery and a bead on the underthrown ball inside the 5-yard line.

As red-hot as Jeffery has been, it appeared that his best chance of making a play on the ball would be to prevent Gipson — who already had two interceptions, including one he returned for a touchdown — from making his third pick. Cutler thought it was going to be an interception. So did Brandon Marshall. And Gipson was waiting.

‘‘We had two guys on him — a center-field safety as well as a cornerback,’’ Gipson said. ‘‘He just can’t catch that.’’

But of course, Jeffery did. With a little help from Gipson misjudging the fly ball, Jeffery leaped, reached out with both hands, grabbed the ball inside the 5-yard line, fell to the ground and turned his body into the end zone for a game-tying, game-turning touchdown. It capped a six-play, 95-yard drive that tied the score 24-24 with 10:59 left in the fourth quarter.

It was the third consecutive week Jeffery has made a highlight-reel catch, following his tiptoeing, 46-yard touchdown along the sideline against the Vikings and his reaching, corner-of-the-end-zone catch in traffic against the Cowboys last week.

‘‘You don’t really get excited too much anymore — it’s Alshon being Alshon,’’ tight end Martellus Bennett said. ‘‘Like when LeBron [James] makes a crazy dunk. It’s kind of like Alshon back there making a crazy catch.’’

Jeffery, as is his custom, was unimpressed. ‘‘It’s an everyday catch,’’ he said. ‘‘Just catching the ball. Making a play. I always tell myself, ‘You’re supposed to make those catches.’ ’’

As Jeffery’s big plays become routine, they are eliciting reverence from the highest places. In the celebration of Jeffery’s touchdown ensued, Marshall raised his arms in the air and bowed like Cub fans saluting Sammy Sosa in the glory days.

‘‘When I saw the ball go up, Jay got hit,’’ Marshall said. ‘‘It seemed like it was short. I was like, ‘Oh, man, this is gonna be an interception.’ The corner didn’t get his head around. I was like, ‘All right, incomplete.’ And Alshon somehow came up with it.’’

Said Gipson: ‘‘He just made a good catch. He’s been making good catches like that all year. I tip my hat to him.’’

Bears nickel back Isaiah Frey feels Gipson’s pain. He knows Jeffery is a defensive back’s worst nightmare.

‘‘All you can do is sit there, put your head down and shake it. There’s nothing you can do,’’ Frey said. ‘‘I checked on Madden the other day — Alshon’s a 99 ‘‘spectacular catch’’ [rating] right now. That’s just what Alshon does.’’

But it’s Cutler who should have been the most thankful for Jeffery. Until that touchdown throw, Cutler was having a tough day — a 70.3 rating with two interceptions, including Gipson’s pick-six. Including the Jeffery touchdown, Cutler had a perfect 158.3 rating, with two touchdowns, the rest of the way.

‘‘I still haven’t seen it,’’ Cutler said. ‘‘I was talking to the ref whenever they were replaying it. My arm got hit, so I didn’t think it was going to get there. I was on the ground, [thinking] ‘There’s [interception] No. 3,’ because I just thought it was floating 20 yards down the field. Somehow it got all the way down there and Alshon does what he does best.’’

Email: mpotash@suntimes.com

Twitter: @MarkPotash



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