Brandon Marshall has been great, but his teams never can close deal
BY MARK POTASH firstname.lastname@example.org December 19, 2012 9:46PM
Bears receiver Brandon Marshall and quarterback Jay Cutler have rekindled their great partnership, but the team has lost five of its last six games. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times
Updated: January 21, 2013 4:05PM
The ‘‘face of the franchise’’ is an ironic distinction at Halas Hall.
Brian Urlacher doesn’t care what Bears fans think about Lovie Smith and chided them for booing a team that has lost five of its last six. Lance Briggs and Charles Tillman are good copy but available for seven or eight minutes a week. Jay Cutler treats most of his weekly news conferences like a trip to the dentist, then disappears. Matt Forte is outspoken but reluctant and usually sullen. Julius Peppers speaks the truth, but we usually only see him on Sundays.
Brandon Marshall seems to be the only ‘‘face of the franchise’’ at Halas Hall who didn’t get the memo. Marshall leads the team not only in receptions, yards and touchdowns, but substantive answers, candor and insight. He’s the rare star we’re rooting for. If you had to guess which Bear has been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, Marshall would be way down the list.
But therein lies the saddest tale of the Bears’ frustrating season. After arriving with the double whammy of a checkered past and high expectations, Marshall has taken a tremendous leap — straightening out his personal life and exceeding expectations on the field — yet still finds himself in the right place at the wrong time, struggling to play for a winner.
The Bears were 7-1 but have lost five of their last six and need help to make the postseason. That’s an all-too-familiar scenario for Marshall. In Denver in 2008, the Broncos were 8-5 but lost their last three games and missed the playoffs. In 2009, the Broncos were 8-4 but lost their last four and missed the playoffs. In Miami in 2010, the Dolphins were 7-6 but lost their last three and missed the playoffs.
‘‘It is definitely tough sometimes when things don’t go the way you expect them to go,’’ Marshall said. ‘‘It gets frustrating, especially when [you] are really passionate and really love this sport.
‘‘When I first got here, I told you guys that the NFL saved my life. I look at where I come from, from a boy, the environment. I look at my journey’s past six years. If it wasn’t for the NFL, I don’t know where I’d be.
‘‘Now, I’m starting to see a difference in my family and my community. People are changing. I’m getting phone calls from around the league, guys asking for counseling [on] mental illness or different situations. This is a new season for me on and off the field. You just have to stay on the journey.’’
Marshall always has been great, but leadership is new to him. He has read books and studied the careers of Ray Lewis and Michael Jordan to learn about it. He wants it more than we do.
But it’s as if he’s up against fate because no matter what Marshall does, it’s still hard to tell if he’s the solution or the problem. Even with his magnificent season, the Bears rank lower in passing than they did last year without him. Earl Bennett and Devin Hester have shriveled when they should have blossomed.
It has been that way before. In 2009, Marshall missed one game in Denver, and Jabar Gaffney — who had two 100-yard games in eight years — caught 14 passes for 213 yards, and the Broncos gained a season-high 512 yards. In Miami in 2010, Marshall missed a game, and the Dolphins gained 471 yards — their highest total in 15 seasons.
Marshall didn’t shy from that unflattering history. On the contrary, he brought it up.
‘‘I [wondered], maybe it’s me,’’ he said. ‘‘What can I do differently to help guys around, make them more comfortable in our offense?’’
Nobody knows, of course.
‘‘We’re all searching right now,’’ offensive coordinator Mike Tice said. ‘‘I’m glad to hear him soul-searching and trying to find a way because it means something to him.’’
That it does. And a player as talented as Marshall with his will to win usually makes the difference when it’s close. So far, he has done everything but win. Maybe he deserved that fate earlier in his career. But not anymore.