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CHICAGO -- Well, they did it. It took 14 games, but the Chicago Bears finally broke Brandon Marshall.
Every dynamic offensive player in the National Football League should watch Marshall's postgame news conference following the Green Bay Packers' division-clinching 21-13 win and call his general manager and head coach and thank them for not being the Bears and make them promise never let him to be traded to Chicago.
A scientist will find the cure for the common cold before a coach cures Chicago's offense. Jay Cutler couldn't do it. Mike Martz couldn't do it. Marshall has tried, and it's driving him to tears.
As Marshall said in a succinct, emotional news conference, it's the same old thing here. Every game, every season. You have to be committed to being this bad at one phase of the game.
|Brandon Marshall (left) was emotional after the Bears lost for the fifth time in six games following a 7-1 start.|
After starting 7-1 with dreams of partying in New Orleans, the Bears have lost five of six and don't control their playoff fate anymore. They'll need help to make the postseason at 10-6. But who's to say they even win their last two games at Arizona and Detroit? If they get in at all, it's a one-and-done appearance. A free trip somewhere.
The cries of change will ring out from Lake Forest to the South Shore. Lovie Smith, Brian Urlacher and Devin Hester, mainstays of that magical 2006 Super Bowl season and the roller-coaster years since, could be gone. Some would say they should be gone.
How quickly a season turns.
Muhsin Muhammad once said this is where receivers go to die. Marshall has fought for his life here, putting up numbers we only see from visitors at Soldier Field, but he still looked like he was at his own funeral after the loss.
Marshall's face was a portrait of pain after the game. Staring hard at the podium, he lasted only four questions before choking up and exiting stage right.
Bracketed all day by two defenders, Marshall was trapped again by his own anger and frustration. What was he mad at? The tyranny of his own offense.
"Everybody in this offense should be held accountable, even if that means jobs," Marshall said. "Everyone on offense should be held accountable. It's been this way all year. There's no excuse. We still have two games left. There's still hope. But at the same time, we need to be held accountable."
Maybe he was talking about teammates. Maybe he was talking about coaches. I prefer to think it was everyone. I say keep Cutler, keep Marshall, keep Matt Forte if he stops dancing near the goal line. Dump everyone else. The offensive line is bad, Hester's time has passed.
Maybe Earl Bennett, who's out with a concussion, and rookie receiver Alshon Jeffery are salvageable. Jeffery had a game for the ages, though, with three offensive pass interference penalties in the second half, and big ones at that. You don't see that kind of game every day.
Only the Bears.
Cutler had to go to Jeffery in the second half as the Packers blanketed Marshall. Marshall was targeted only seven times after getting targeted 51 times over the previous three games.
You don't want to lose to your rival year-in and year-out. Then it's not a rivalry anymore. It's a domination.” -- Jay Cutler, who is 1-8 against the Packers since he joined the Bears
He caught six passes for 56 yards, including a 15-yard touchdown to give the Bears a 7-0 lead. The score was all Marshall. He was lined up in the slot, caught a short pass, broke a tackle, issued a vicious stiff arm and ran into the corner of the end zone.
After that play, which came with 8:11 left in the second, he got targeted on the next drive on a screen pass. His next target after that came when there was less than 4 minutes left in the fourth quarter. When the Bears had to settle for a field goal after having first-and-goal from the Packers' 5 in the third quarter, Marshall was nowhere to be found.
Other players have beaten double coverage before. But Marshall has to get the ball first. That's on offensive coordinator Mike Tice, Cutler and Marshall.
"We did what we game planned and went in and did what we had to do against Marshall, and you see the results," Packers cornerback Sam Shields said.
Marshall didn't sound like a guy who has rewritten the Bears' single-season receiving records. He sounded like a guy trying to keep himself from raging. Marshall has been through therapy to control his borderline personality disorder. He knows himself better than anyone.
"It's been the same way all year," he said. "It's the same thing every single game. We need to be held accountable. What I have to do is try my best to keep it together and not let this affect me because it's starting to affect me more than it should. I love this game. I'm very passionate about this game, and right now, it's affecting me way too much. I'm trying my all to do my job. So, that's it."
And that's how he left the room to stunned silence.
After the game, Cutler played the role of steady quarterback, accepting blame. Lovie was Lovie, unquotable. Urlacher went on his paid TV postgame appearance and chastised the fans for booing. But Marshall kept it real. This is a grim situation.
The Bears are 0-7 in their past two Decembers and two games away from their second straight late-season meltdown. It's unacceptable, inexcusable, you name it. I don't know how a McCaskey, any McCaskey, doesn't want to fire Smith after the season, even if the Bears win out and slip into the playoffs. Change has to be afoot, right?
|Brandon Marshall throws the ball into the stands after his touchdown catch gave the Bears a 7-0 lead. It would be Chicago's only lead of the game.|
I'm not saying the next coach will be better than Smith, but there has to be some serious soul searching at Halas Hall. You can't have seasons end like this and keep the status quo. There are only so many assistant coaches you can fire.
One thing is for sure: It's not Marshall's fault. The new Brandon Marshall had been a model teammate since arriving in Chicago, always trying to pump up his teammates and presenting a positive front when things have gone south. This week, he brought a "Charlie Brown" Christmas tree to his media session and said he basically hated the Packers and invited man coverage.
Of course, the Packers laughed off his comments. In their minds, who was he to talk? Marshall was invisible in their first victory, 23-10 in Week 2, and they held him down again in this one.
Veteran defensive back Charles Woodson, who said "Same old Jay" after the Packers' first victory, laughed off Marshall's attempt to speak out after this win, calling his words "corny."
"I don't really appreciate the man speaking my name," Woodson, who is out with an injury, told reporters. "I don't know Brandon. But we're NFC North champions. That's all I care about."
The Packers are 8-1 against the Bears in Cutler's tenure. As Smith said when he was hired, your No. 1 goal is to beat Green Bay.
"It wears on me," Cutler said. "It wears on everyone. You don't want to lose to your rival, year in and year out. Then it's not a rivalry anymore. It's a domination."
We already know Cutler can't win big games on his own. That's not totally a knock against him, because most teams have a better baseline on which to build. He has a ragtag operation behind him.
Meanwhile, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers was fantastic. That's why he's an annual MVP candidate and a Super Bowl quarterback. He hooked up for three touchdowns with James Jones. He makes the plays you expect from franchise quarterbacks. When the Bears brought pressure late in the game, Rodgers danced around it. Too many times, Cutler steps into trouble.
"I was thinking about moving around a little bit more," Rodgers said. "Just being aware of where I was in the pocket, stepping up when I had to, keeping plays alive."
Cutler has so much ability and he takes such a beating, it's hard to rag on him right now. After the game, he said his neck was bothering him, a remnant of last week. Healthy or not, critiquing a quarterback in whatever offense Tice is running is difficult, without full knowledge of the calls and breakdowns. There are so many breakdowns.
The turning point of this game came late in the second quarter when Cutler threw a pass intended for Hester into the numbers of defensive back Casey Hayward, who returned the interception 24 yards to Chicago's 26-yard line. Five plays later, the Packers took a 14-7 lead on Rodgers' second TD pass to Jones. Green Bay led the rest of the way.
Cutler was gesticulating on the bench after the play, throwing his hands up several times before making the universal gesture for "forget this." After the game, he took full responsibility for the play. He was being the stand-up leader everyone wants him to be. I think he was lying through his teeth.
"You know, it came out of my hands," he said. "I'm responsible. Those things can't happen. That's how you lose ballgames against good teams like that."
Asked if Hester read anything differently, Cutler said, "I'm not going to get into it. It's my responsibility."
Hester said he ran the right route, but it was a miscommunication with Cutler. That seems to happen a lot.
"Whatever side the ball was on, it was a two-man route where we stick them outside toward the sidelines and then break up the field," Hester said. "I guess we just weren't on the same page. I guess it was just miscommunication on both of our parts."
Miscommunication? Sometimes it feels like the Bears' offense just met in the parking lot before the game.
And as Marshall implied, some people need to be saying goodbye in the parking lot in a few weeks. Something has to give.