CHICAGO – Brandon Marshall stared hard at the carpet in front of his locker.
The most talented receiver in the history of the Bears had changed into gray sweatpants and a gray hooded sweatshirt, which reflected the color of his mood. His socks, white with rows of bicycles printed on them, seemed too happy and offbeat for the occasion.
The Bears had lost, 26-18, to the New Orleans Saints, and Marshall had spent the bulk of his Sunday afternoon serving as a highly paid afterthought in a sputtering offense that produced two touchdowns, a field goal, four punts, a fumble and a turnover on downs.
By game’s end, Marshall had caught only four passes for 30 yards and a touchdown. His late score – a 2-yard reception to pull the Bears within eight points – represented lipstick on a pig (or should we say pigskin?), coming after thousands of disappointed fans already had filed out of Soldier Field.
“It’s tough,” Marshall said. “It’s really tough. I’m not going to lie to you.”
But instead of throwing a tantrum or cursing the Bears’ new-and-occasionally-improved offense, Marshall tried to bite his tongue. And that’s what mattered most in the moments after the defeat.
First, let’s get quick some facts out of the way: The Bears lost. They’re not as good as the Saints. Also, Alshon Jeffery had a stellar day, catching 10 passes for a franchise-record 218 yards.
However, in terms of season-long implications, one of the most important parts of Sunday’s game happened when Marshall climbed the stage in the Bears’ postgame interview room. He’s as sensitive as he is talented, and earlier in his career he might have said things that he later would regret.
So give credit to Marshall, just as he rightfully gave credit to himself, for managing his emotions. That is no small feat for someone who bravely and publicly has waged a battle with Borderline Personality Disorder, a mental illness that affects up to 10 million Americans.
Marshall acknowledged that it was hard to keep positive on a day that quickly turned negative.
“My No. 1 goal going into the work week was to work on my body language when I’m not (involved) in the game,” Marshall said. “It’s been like that the first few weeks, and I kind of let myself down and the guys around me with my body language.
“So I got better at that today. They took me out of the game, and that’s one positive for myself. I just tried to keep my head up and keep myself ready for when I’m available for the team. Whenever they call my number, I just try to be there.
“Because if you beat yourself up too much, or you get too down or too frustrated at the play-calling or the coverage, the ball comes your way and you drop it. So I’m proud of myself today. Sorry for patting myself on the back, but there’s not too much that I can hang my hat on today. We lost. I got shut out. But Alshon Jeffery, man, he’s coming.”
Jeffery might be coming, but the Bears are going nowhere without Marshall at his best.
Bears coach Marc Trestman said he hoped to get Marshall involved early in the game with a few designed play calls, but the Saints’ pass rush forced Jay Cutler to flee the pocket and improvise. The Bears offensive line didn’t do Cutler any favors, allowing three sacks and a half-dozen hurries.
“Obviously, we’ve targeted him frequently,” said Trestman, who patted Marshall on the back as his receiver exited the interview room. “He’s the most targeted guy in the first month of the season. When we don’t, that starts with me. I’ve got to do a better job of getting him involved.”
Cutler said the Saints made it clear from the start of the first quarter that Marshall was not going to beat them. They double-covered him in the slot, in the red zone, over the top of the field. Everywhere.
The best way to free Marshall, Cutler said, was with record-setting performances such as Jeffery’s.
“It’s going to come,” Cutler said of Marshall’s targets. “You can’t keep doubling him and letting another receiver go for 200 [yards]. It’s silly to keep doing that.
“ ‘B’ is going to get his. He’s just got to keep trusting us, and he has.”
On a gray sweatpants kind of day, that news was as close to a win as the Bears could get.
• Shaw Media sports columnist Tom Musick can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @tcmusick.