By Chris Emma–
LAKE FOREST, Ill. (CBS) — Upon hauling in the game-winning touchdown Monday night, Bears tight end Zach Miller had an appreciation for the moment. He was one of the heroes in the victory in San Diego.
Miller made a great effort in reaching his hand for the Jay Cutler bullet, deflecting the ball to himself and catching it before tumbling into the end zone. It was one of the Bears’ most impressive plays all season. But the sentiments grew when he returned to his locker stall in the visiting locker room at Qualcomm Stadium and checked his phone.
There were calls and texts from family members, friends, former coaches and even former general managers.
“Cool moment to know you have a support system like that,” Miller said Thursday. “Everybody reaches out. They care.”
That’s because they know what Miller has been through.
Drafted in the sixth round of the 2009 draft by Jacksonville, Miller has had a career riddled by injuries. He’s had surgery on his shoulder, tore an Achillies, battled a concussion and missed all of 2014 with a Lisfranc injury. Before 2015, Miller hadn’t played since 2011, a season shortened by injury.
In Miller’s NFL career that dates back to 2009, he’s played in just 41 games — including eight this season. During each rehab, he never quit on football.
“I never really had that mindset,”Miller said. “I think if you let that (concept) creep in, you’re kind of setting yourself up for failure. It was always a positive mindset, grind through whatever I had to grind through, get back to where I’m at and whatever happens happens.”
Bears general manager Phil Emery believed in Miller, signing him in 2014 despite the injury history. He showed flashes during training camp and caught a touchdown in the Bears’ first preseason game. Then, he was injured a week later and missed another season.
The new regime in Chicago saw the similar flashes from Miller, bringing him back for a one-year deal in 2015. He’s maintained good health and impressed the team. The Bears have seen more of Miller than his touchdown catch from Monday.
“You’re super happy for him,” fellow tight end Martellus Bennett said. “But that’s what’s expected of him.”
Miller, 31, is a good athlete ideal for the tight end position. He’s 6-foot-5 and 241 pounds, capable in blocking just as much as the passing game. After Monday, much of the football world knows what Miller can do.
Climbing the pocket, Cutler threw a dart over the middle, splitting coverage perfectly. The ball was there, but Miller had to first find it — not seeing it initially — then go up and get it.
Caught in reflection, Miller could appreciate what he accomplished. But on the long road back, he knew a terrific touchdown on Monday Night Football could come, just as he feels there are more ahead. That effort wasn’t a fluke.
It’s what he’s worked to do.
“I’ve always been confident in my abilities,” Miller said. “When the ball comes my way, I got to make a play.”