Receivers let down Bears in big road test
Bears wide receiver Brandon Marshall tries to elude a tackle by Vikings linebacker Erin Henderson after making a catch in the first half Sunday. Marshall finished with 10 catches for 160 yards.
MINNEAPOLIS — From the way Bears receivers treated the football Sunday, it almost appeared they were playing outside the Metrodome where a snowstorm raged all day rather than within the dry, noisy confines of the Minnesota Vikings stadium.
Dropped passes, throws deflected, overthrows by quarterback Jay Cutler and missed opportunities mixed with a record-setting day for wide receiver Brandon Marshall, but the end result was a passing game that seemed out of sync in a 21-14 defeat.
"We all let the team down," Marshall said.
Marshall made 10 catches to go to 101 on the year and break by 1 catch the record set by Marty Booker in 2001.
Marshall's record-breaking catch came on a leaping TD catch on a 16-yard pass thrown by Jason Campbell after Cutler left with a neck injury. Marshall had 160 receiving yards to go over 100 for the seventh time this season.
None of that mattered, and he wanted instead to dwell upon a fourth-and-6 pass from Cutler he couldn't handle with 4:31 remaining that ended the Bears' chances for all intents and purposes, or a third-down pass that was knocked away in the third quarter that he had in his hands.
"I dropped that third down," he said. "I have to make that play. That was a momentum play. If we move the chains, the game is probably different. I have to do better.
"I let my teammates down today. Ive got to make those plays. That fourth down, Jay put it on me right on the money and I dropped it."
Wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, playing for the first time since arthroscopic knee surgery, and tight end Kellen Davis both dropped passes, but the most costly one was Devin Hester's as he slanted over the middle in the fourth quarter near the 15-yard line with defenders too far away to keep him from getting inside the 5, and possibly the end zone.
"I just flat out dropped it," Hester said. "I've just got to make that play.
"It's just frustrating. I let a play go. I let a play go that I can't get back."
Hester made a season-high 5 catches for 39 yards, and Marshall afterward wanted to dwell on this as a positive going forward to next Sunday at Soldier Field against Green Bay rather than think about missed chances — perhaps the most drops the Bears have had in a game all year.
"I really enjoyed seeing Hester in the slot today," Marshall said. "He had an outstanding week of practice. He did an amazing job today. He's like a shooter. The more he gets, the better he gets. So we have to feed him a little more so we get him going.
"I'm sure by the time the playoff time gets here, him and Earl (Bennett) in the slot are going to be dangerous. Alshon got back today. I was excited about him. He's a little rusty, but he made some big plays and there's some plays he left out there.
"So I expect him down the stretch to make those plays."
Jeffery made the third TD catch of his career on a 23-yard pass from Cutler with the defense focusing all its attention to Marshall.
However, the Vikings' pass defense has struggled late in the season and the Bears decision not to go with four- or five-receiver sets may have been as much of a missed opportunity as the dropped passes.
Then again, with a makeshift offensive line, the Bears may not have been able to protect Cutler in four- or five-receiver sets.
"They really elected not to spread things out until the last couple minutes," said Vikings defensive end Jared Allen. "Even when we got up on them, they decided to keep everyone in (for extra blocking). I think that's an advantage to us."
Marshall had 12 catches for 92 yards against the Vikings two weeks earlier, but his 10 catches Sunday for more yardage seemed to lack the same impact. He had only 2 third-down catches for first downs and a TD on third down.
"He (Marshall) wasn't getting the same catches he was last game," Allen said. "We were knocking the ball away. We were able to get some pressure on them.
"Our whole thing was just not to let Cutler run free. When he ran, we needed to force him into bad throws, and we were able to do that."
And when they didn't, there were bad attempts at catches to assist the Vikings.
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