Second Chance for Moose

Lake Forest - Muhsin Muhammad wants a shot at redemption, which is why the Bears' wide receiver is glad the Carolina Panthers are coming to Soldier Field Sunday for a rematch on Sunday in an NFC divisional-round playoff game.

The Bears defeated Muhammad's former team 13-3 at home back on Nov. 20, but the Pro-Bowl player hardly performed like an all-star. He had a three-yard touchdown catch among his six receptions for 49 yards, but Muhammad dropped almost as many passes in a game in which he admitted his emotions adversely affected his performance.

Now he can make amends by playing a bigger role and helping the Bears in their quest to reach the NFC title game and then Super Bowl XL.

"I was actually prepared for this moment because after the first game I was hoping I had another chance to play them again," said Muhammad, who played nine years for the Panthers after they drafted him in the second round in 1996. "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. 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."

When the Panthers cut Muhammad after deciding early in the last off-season that they couldn't afford to shoehorn his contract under their salary cap, the Bears pounced with a $30 million, six-year contract. The Bears and their NFL-worst passing offense were desperately in need of a go-to receiver, and Muhammad fit the profile, having caught 93 passes for league bests of 1,405 receiving yards and 16 touchdowns in 2004.

The 32-year-old Muhammad felt rejuvenated starting over with a new team, and one that wanted him $30 million worth, but he hasn't forgotten the previous eight years, and he couldn't forget them two months ago when his old teammates came to his new place of business. And he couldn't get his emotions completely under control even after the game began.

"You've got to understand there's been history there," he said. "So for me to come out and say that there were no emotional ties to that team, it would be ridiculous, it would be a flat-out lie. Nine years of playing experience with the same team; the same teammates that I played with for nine years, eight years some of those guys.

"The day was emotional. When I came out (on the field), it was the first time I'd seen them since I signed with Chicago. Of course I'm going to give my buddy a hug. I took a picture with Steve (Smith) after the game. I don't know if it'll be the same after this game, but we're still friends. It's a big fraternity, this game we play. Even guys who I've played against for years, we're all one big fraternity. We can shake hands before the game, but we're going to be swinging during the game."

Muhammad's numbers with the Bears this season - 64 catches, 750 yards and four touchdowns - didn't come close to his three 1,000-plus-yard seasons in Carolina. He also had more dropped passes than expected from a go-to receiver.

"I've been a journeyman," Muhammad said. "I've been a role player. I think I've had a lot of adversity this year, and I think (the media) has probably picked out a few rough spots I've had during the season. But I think overall, the job that I've been asked to do, I think I've done extremely well."

Muhammad struggled along with the rest of an offense that focused more on avoiding mistakes than on making big plays. But it wasn't just statistics the Bears were looking for when they signed Muhammad. They wanted someone to mentor a young group of wide receivers that had a lot more talent than experience.

"We've talked about the leadership off the field, but he's (also) a Pro-Bowl receiver," said Bears coach Lovie Smith, who will be depending on Muhammad. "He's our No. 1 receiver. We need a big game out of him. This will be a special game for him, to have a chance to play his old teammates for the second time."

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