Forte finished the game with 175 total yards (117 rushing, 58 receiving), while Marshall and Jeffery combined for 18 catches, 225 receiving yards and three touchdowns.
Both Marshall and Jeffery have struggled this year to replicate their Pro Bowl numbers from last season, while Forte has been the odd man out in a number of contests.
Yet today, all three came through in a big way, putting the team on their backs and carrying them to a much-needed victory.
“We needed this win really, really badly,” Kyle Long said after the game.
The success through the air had much to do with Minnesota’s defense, which inexplicably used man-to-man coverage for the vast majority of the game. Single coverage is what Marshall and Jeffery eat for breakfast, thus the gaudy numbers.
“They played a lot of man-to-man and we took advantage of it,” Jeffery said. “They stuck with their game plan. That’s something they did all year. They stuck with their game plan and we stuck with ours.”
Jay Cutler finished the game with 330 passing yards and three touchdowns, yet all three of those scores were 50/50 balls that could have easily been interceptions. Instead, Jeffery and Marshall used their big bodies to shield defenders and highpoint the ball, repeatedly bailing out their quarterback.
“We needed [those big plays],” Jermon Bushrod said. “Cutty was putting the ball out there and trusting his receivers to go up and make plays. That’s what they did. Those are our playmakers.”
For Jeffery, it was a much-needed breakout game. In the three contests previous, he totaled just 13 catches for 132 yards. He and Cutler were not connecting on deep balls, which is a staple of Jeffery’s game. Yet today, he made one of his classic jump-ball catches, out-leaping the defender near the sideline for a 34-yard grab in the third quarter.
“Unfortunately, in the past, it wasn’t happening but it’s something that I do all of the time,” said Jeffery. “You can’t cover us [in man-to-man] or we’re going to take advantage of it. If you want to play us man-to-man, we’re going to take advantage of every opportunity.”
Yet the real hero today was Forte who, despite not scoring a touchdown, backpacked the offense for most of the game. His 117 rushing yards were his second most in a single contest this year, while his sure hands as a receiver kept numerous drives alive.
“I had plenty of opportunities to run the ball today and I was effective,” Forte said. “The offense seemed to be in tune and things were chugging along. Jay, Brandon Alshon, Martellus [Bennett], all of the guys worked so hard and helped us be successful. I felt communication was good on the field. We were very focused.”
While it only seems naturally for Chicago’s Big 3 to carry the team to victory, that has not happened this season. Marshall is on pace for a career low in receptions and yardage, Jeffery is not on the same pace he was during his Pro Bowl campaign last season and Forte has had 82 rushing yards or less in all but two previous contests.
In addition, Marshall’s fumble in Week 1 against Buffalo, as well as Forte’s fumble in Week 5 against Carolina, were mistakes that ultimately cost the Bears victories.
In fact, during a season in which almost nothing has gone right for Chicago’s offense, today’s contest was the first in which all three of the team’s top skill-position players made a significant impact.
“Brandon and Alshon did a great job today on those deep routes,” said Forte. “We're very confident in their abilities when they are out there. It’s great to see some of those spectacular plays.”
Heading into this season, expectations were that Forte, Marshall and Jeffery would produce at this level on a weekly basis. They didn’t do that through the first nine games, which resulted in a 3-6 record. The Big 3 rose to the occasion today and, not surprisingly, the Bears picked up their fourth victory.
If Chicago’s triumvirate can carry over today’s performance into next week and beyond, the Bears could run the table the rest of the way. While that still may not be enough to make the playoffs, it’s momentum the team can build on going into 2015.
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He is in his fourth season covering the Chicago Bears full time. Follow Bear Report on Twitter.