LAKE FOREST, Ill. – Brandon Marshall insisted it's a new day. The way he connected with Jay Cutler, it sure seemed like old times.
The Pro Bowl receiver got off to a good start with his new team and his old quarterback, coming through with an explosive performance for the Chicago Bears in their 41-21 season-opening victory over the Indianapolis Colts.
Marshall caught nine passes for 119 yards with a touchdown. Cutler threw for 333 yards with two TDs, and the Bears spoiled No. 1 draft pick Andrew Luck's debut with the Colts.
"We're trying to build a new thing here in Chicago," Marshall said. "It's going to take a lot of hard work. It was a great start."
To many, it seemed like the duo picked up where they left off. They put up huge numbers during their three seasons together in Denver, and with Marshall now in the mix after that blockbuster trade with Miami, Cutler finally has a true No. 1 target with the Bears.
The early results? Well, they were as advertised.
"It was fun to watch," defensive end Julius Peppers said. "Hopefully, that's a sign of things that are going to happen all year."
Cutler shook off a slow start, and the Bears racked up 428 yards on the way to their highest point total since they scored 48 in a win over Detroit in 2009. A big reason — Marshall.
Maybe the Packers will have better luck when the Bears visit Green Bay on Thursday night. Then again, their revamped defense got a harsh reality check in a 30-22 loss to San Francisco, and there are some questions in the secondary even with Tramon Williams at cornerback, so they might have trouble finding some answers.
The Colts certainly did.
Whether he was double-teamed or in single coverage, the 6-foot-4, 230-pound Marshall made plays. And even the touchdown, a simple 3-yarder to give Chicago a 14-7 lead early in the second quarter, was impressive.
He drove Vontae Davis, his teammate in Miami last season, off the ball with a quick spin and caught a bullet from Cutler.
"Went in, turned around," Marshall said. "Jay threw it, caught it, touchdown."
The offense made it look that way once it got going, and the Bears believe there's more to come. They believe the system is better tailored to the personnel now that Mike Tice is the coordinator, and they believe they have the pieces to make it work.
And it's not just about Matt Forte carrying the ball or Cutler firing to Marshall. It just starts there.
"I know Jay spreads it out, but he definitely takes advantage of the matchups," Marshall said. "This league is all about matchups. Today, it just happened to be a wheelbarrow for me. But next week, it might be a shot glass."
Cutler used his arm strength to zip passes between two defenders or throw the ball up high in a crowd because Marshall would find a way to get it. It's a weapon he hasn't had since Denver traded him to Chicago.
It's no surprise that 15 of the 35 passes Cutler threw were to Marshall, but the other receivers had chances, too.
There was rookie Alshon Jeffery hauling in a 42-yard touchdown in the back of the end zone on a perfect high arching pass that sailed about 60 yards late in the game.
Devin Hester had a 29-yard catch. Earl Bennett had a 25-yarder. But it was Marshall stealing the show.
Cutler said the Colts "weren't really scared of him," that they were "going to let him make plays" and try to stop the run. Would he be surprised if teams are scared of Marshall after this?
"You have Alshon (Jeffrey) catching touchdowns, Earl (Bennett) catching 60-70 yards," Cutler said. "Matt Forte. Devin Hester so we have a lot of weapons. You kind of have to pick what you're going to do. Going forward, mixing it up on defense and giving us a lot of coverages, different fronts, blitzing us is probably what we're going to see."
Notes: Coach Lovie Smith sounded optimistic Monday that CB Charles Tillman will return this week after leaving the opener with an injury to his lower right leg. Asked if he expects Tillman to be ready, Smith said, "Yes I do. The glass is half-full, always. So yes." Smith said the Bears would have held him out along with LB Brian Urlacher had there been practice on Monday. Kyle Adams (shoulder) and J'Marcus Webb (thumb) were also banged up.
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