Moose Must Produce

Big money players need to show up when it counts and today's divisional matchup against Carolina definitely falls in that category for the Chicago Bears. The organization can get a major return on their $30 million investment of WR Muhsin Muhammad.

A year ago, Muhsin Muhammad had arguably the best season of any receiver in the game. He had 93 receptions for 1,405 yards and 16 touchdowns. Although he led the Bears in all three categories this year, his numbers dropped dramatically in Chicago. He caught 64 balls for 750 yards with 4 scores.

Obviously the play at quarterback and a more run oriented offense had an impact on his stats. But there were also times Muhammad had a chance to make a play and simply didn't come up with the ball. Whether it was a drop or just beating his coverage when both players were fighting for the ball, a No. 1 receiver needs to do more.

Muhammad's 10th season in the league can be summed up by his first game against his former team. He had three receptions for 48 yards and the game's only touchdown. The two-time Pro Bowl wideout also dropped three others passes, including one in the end zone.

"The day was emotional," Muhammad said of the first meeting between the two teams.

It's understandable to be nervous about going up against your former teammates, coaches and friends. However all excuses aside, the Bears need Muhammad at his best in the franchise's most important game in four years.

Muhammad said he wanted another shot at Carolina and he will get his wish today at 3:30 p.m. Considering how confident the six-foot-2, 215-pounder is in his abilities, he came as close to saying he had a bad game as he ever will.

"That game that we played the first time, I thought that we could have played a better game, and I thought I could have played a better game," Muhammad said. "I wanted to play better against them, I really did, I wanted to play a lot better and I just want the opportunity to do it again."

To move the ball, the Bears are going to rely heavily on their ground game, as they have all season. The Panthers will counter by stacking the line of scrimmage with eight defenders and try to force Rex Grossman to throw the ball.

Even though the Bears have to stick with their game plan and not have Grossman drop back 40 times, at some point the passing game will have to produce. When Grossman has the ball in his hands the primary target will be Muhammad, who was great in his last trip to the playoffs. He has 15 catches for 352 yards and two touchdowns in four games, including 4 receptions for 140 yards and a touchdown in Super Bowl XXXVIII.

There's no time to blame mistakes on an inexperienced quarterback, which Muhammad seemed to have no problem doing when Kyle Orton was under center. It's true Grossman and Muhammad quickly built a relationship after the receiver inked a deal with the Bears before the official start of free agency, but the only thing that matters is the end result.

Muhammad has an opportunity to show his former team what they lost when the organization didn't want to pay him a $10 million bonus. So far it appears the Panthers made the right decision because Steve Smith had a big year without a counterpart, much like Muhammad did in 2004.

"You get a lot of opportunities," said Muhammad as an explanation of why two different receivers from the same team could lead the NFC in receiving yards in consecutive seasons. "When I played down there I probably averaged 10 or 15 attempts or plays a game. I think that's really a key to wide receiver. If you get the ball early and often in a game you get in a rhythm and you get going."

Muhammad has yet to do the same with the Bears and there would be no better time like the present to find his dancing shoes.


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