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Haugh: Marshall is Bears’ homecoming king

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (MCT) — Toting the football he caught Sunday for a 24-yard touchdown, Brandon Marshall headed toward the first row of seats behind the Bears bench with more purpose than any route he ran all game.

Marshall found his father, Freddie, and handed him the ball. It was the only thing the Bears wide receiver didn’t hold onto all day.

“I gave it to my dad,” Marshall said after the Bears’ 41-3 thumping of the Jaguars at EverBank Field. “That was big.”

For Marshall, everything about the Bears’ fourth victory was. Marshall’s sentimental journey to his home state turned into a highly productive business trip for him and a Bears offense that enjoyed its most prolific day in 23 years. The 501 yards the Bears gained represented their highest total since Sept. 24, 1989, against the Lions.

“They brought me here to be a No. 1 receiver, but in our offense we have the ability to game-plan around different guys,” Marshall said. “When teams take me out, we have guys that can step up.”

What happens when nobody takes Marshall out of the game plan and everybody steps up anyway? The Bears offense makes franchise history just so it can keep up with a defense that set another record.

It helped that the Jaguars chased ball carriers like they were running on a 100-yard Florida swamp, but coordinator Mike Tice’s crew established enough momentum to last until they play again in 15 days.

Matt Forte gained 107 yards. Backup Michael Bush jumped over a tackler. Jay Cutler rediscovered a rhythm missing early. The offensive line protected. As for Marshall, he did what the Bears acquired him to do by being harder to cover than a neck tattoo.

“Whenever he gets one-on-one we expect him to win,” Cutler said. “If he comes to the sideline and says, ‘I just can’t win,’ I’ll say, ‘Why not?’ “

Marshall likes to explain the varying amounts of an NFL receiver’s weekly output in a unique way. “Some days it’s a shot glass,” he says, “some days it’s a wheelbarrow.”

Sunday was a day to get the gardening gloves and push.

In catching 12 passes for 144 yards, Marshall became the first Bears wide receiver since Marcus Robinson in 1999 to gain at least 100 yards in back-to-back games. Not since Marty Booker in 2002 has a Bears wide receiver caught 10 or more passes in a game.

One of the biggest came on fourth-and-1 at the Jacksonville 45, with the score tied at 3. The Bears lacked a zeal for teal in the first half and Lovie Smith sensed his team needed to break out of the doldrums. So Lovie lit the match.

“We talked about how disappointed we were in the first half and couldn’t come out and punt the ball right away,” Smith said.

Instead, Tice called a pass the Jaguars defended until the last moment Marshall read Cutler instinctively enough to escape for a 12-yard connection. The conversion changed the game. The Bears flipped a switch.

“We had pressure and he slid it into a nice inside hole cover,” Jaguars coach Mike Mularkey said. “Those guys have been playing long enough that they know what he is going to do before he does it. It was a monumental momentum change.”

Over the final 20 minutes, the Bears scored 35 points. Forget any concerns over the Bears playing down to their level of competition against a Jaguars team that looked like a 2-14 team quarterbacked by the second coming of Jonathan Quinn. Overlook the silly, destructive mistakes Gabe Carimi made on a long day for the Bears right tackle. Stop trying to figure out why the Bears would squib-kick when Robbie Gould is so good at booting the ball into oblivion.

When the Bears show that much explosiveness for the second straight game, they demand the focus stays on what this can do instead of what it can’t. On a day the Packers (2-3) lost again to a Colts team the 4-1 Bears beat — think tiebreaker — that only seems fair.

“We’re still peaking,” said cornerback Charles Tillman, whose 36-yard interception return for a TD broke the game open.

Indeed, the Bears enter their off week a good football team with potential for 2006-like greatness. Three straight beatable opponents await the Bears. They have a defense that scores so regularly that Tillman and Lance Briggs have more touchdowns so far than Calvin Johnson. They have an offense getting more acclimated to Marshall every game, even if this one in 88-degree weather tested the Florida resident.

“I’ve got Bear blood in me now,” Marshall kidded. “I’ve lived here all my life and still not used to it.”

He looked right at home to me.

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