Wide receiver Earl Bennett easily could have become the forgotten man in the Bears' new, multifaceted offensive attack.
He missed most of training camp and the preseason with yet another concussion, just a few months after a concussion sidelined him for two games last December.
Then, just before the start of the regular season, Bennett accepted a $1 million pay cut to remain with the Bears. He signed a $16.2 million, four-year extension at the end of the 2011 season; the cut reduced his base pay from $2.25 million this year to $1.25 million.
Through two weeks he had just 3 catches for 25 yards, while wide receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, tight end Martellus Bennett and running back Matt Forte got most of the touches and produced most of the offense.
But the six-year veteran said he never got that left-out feeling. He never pouted, sulked, complained or whined, and those things are expected behavior at wide receiver, the NFL's prima donna position.
“Everybody's going to get their opportunity,” Bennett said. “When it comes, you've just got to take advantage of it. Maybe it's one ball this week, maybe seven the next week. You never know who the guy's going to be.
“In Week 1 it was Brandon, in Week 2, Martellus. In Week 3, Alshon had a lot of big catches, too. We've just got to stay ready.”
Jeffery led the Bears on Sunday night with 7 catches for 51 yards. Marshall led the Bears with 52 receiving yards on 5 catches. But no one has made a more improbable catch for the Bears this season than Bennett did against the Steelers.
The catch was so improbable that officials initially ruled it incomplete, certain that Bennett could not have kept both feet in bounds in the end zone as he laid out for the sideline catch with a defender on top of him.
But replay revealed the reception was legit. It came as the Bears were in danger of suffering a humiliating collapse, having squandered all but 4 points of a 21-point edge, and it re-established a much safer lead at 33-24 with 5:48 left in the game.
The 17-yard TD catch was a classic case of a good thing coming to someone who waited. Through all the negatives that threatened to diminish Bennett's season, he kept coming to work, doing his job, filling his role and, as Marshall said after the game, “setting a good example.”
“He's a consummate professional and one of the highest character guys we have in our locker room,” coach Marc Trestman said. “Anybody who knows him will say that. He's completely unselfish and will do whatever he can to help this football team.
“He's always where he should be, lines up where he should be, runs the routes the way he should run them, and he's a tremendous technician. He's a tremendous asset to our football team. He's just all about team.”
Bennett only had 1 other catch Sunday for 5 yards, but he contributed to a team victory, which is what he's about.
“The biggest thing for me is to be selfless,” he said. “I'm going to do whatever it is the team needs me to do. Whether it's go out and field punts, go out and make tackles on kickoffs or catch 120 balls. Whatever the team needs me to do, that's what I'm here for.”
And the pay cut? Not a big thing, according to Bennett.
“I just talked to my agent, and we did what I thought was best for me,” he said. “I love playing here, and I look forward to playing here many more years.
“It's not hard at all.”
His touchdown catch? Now, that was hard.
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