MIAMI — If it rains, his opportunities could become limited.
If his team achieves its goal of establishing the running game, his role will change.
And if his teammates continue to find space downfield, like they did in the first two playoff games, his numbers won’t be MVP-worthy.
But if the Chicago Bears are to upset the Indianapolis Colts tonight in Super Bowl XLI, they’ll need receiver Muhsin Muhammad to make the kind of plays that earned him a $30 million free agent contract two years ago.
Looking for an overshadowed “X” factor? Try Muhammad, the Bears’ top receiver who has played a complementary role this postseason as Bernard Berrian and Rashied Davis have made big catches in wins over Seattle and New Orleans.
After leading the Bears with 60 catches for 863 yards and five touchdowns during the regular season, Muhammad has been limited to four catches for 58 yards in the playoffs. But with the emergence of Indianapolis’ run defense this postseason, the Bears likely will have to complete some passes downfield to have a shot at winning, and Muhammad should be Rex Grossman’s first option.
“You have to be ready when your time comes — don’t be caught sleeping, don’t be caught with your head down, don’t buy into what people are saying,” Muhammad said. “Everybody will get a chance to have a really big game and be the guy.”
Muhammad has been “the guy” for Chicago since he parlayed a 93-catch, 16-touchdown season with Carolina in 2004 into a monster deal with the Bears. But because the Bears emphasize a power running game more than the Panthers, Muhammad hasn’t replicated his Carolina numbers (three 90-plus-catch years). In two years in Chicago, Muhammad has 124 catches and nine touchdowns.
“I thought I had a solid year,” Muhammad said. “Numbers-wise, I didn’t put up a lot of big numbers, but when my team needed plays, I made plays. And we’re in the Super Bowl. How much more successful can you be as a player?”
Berrian has benefited from Muhammad’s willingness to catch underneath routes, leaving open space downfield for Chicago’s other receivers.
“Moose is a great receiver because he’ll make all the tough catches and do all the dirty work,” Berrian said. “He’s been a great mentor for us as young receivers.”
Muhammad, 33, is one of the few Bears with Super Bowl experience. With Carolina in 2003, he 15 catches for 352 yards and two touchdowns — including a record-setting, 85-yard touchdown against New England — in four postseason games.
Unlike some players who discard Super Bowl defeats and would rather re-work their contracts than watch the video, Muhammad said he has viewed the game several times, most recently before the Bears traveled to South Florida.
“When you go that far and you lose in the big game, it does wear on you,” Muhammad said. “It wore on me until we won the championship game [two weeks ago]. … I’ve told them about sitting in the locker room after the game listening to the other team celebrate. I know they don’t want to feel that. It’s an awful feeling. It’s a tough, hurtful feeling.”
Despite not being called upon often during the postseason, Muhammad relishes the responsibility of being his quarterback’s No. 1 target.
“Oh yeah, I feel the pressure,” he said. “Does it get to me? I don’t think so because I like the pressure. This game is predicated on pressure. It’s third-and-whatever, who will make the play? Pressure does wonderful things to you. It will break you or mold you into a diamond. The guys who thrive on pressure situations are the guys who can play 10, 11, 12 years in the NFL. I want to be called on.”