The Bears suffered a second straight deflating home loss Sunday to an opponent that had been winless on the road. But one bright spot was the performance of tight end Zach Miller.
In the first game since No. 1 tight end Martellus Bennett was placed on injured reserve, Miller took advantage of expanded playing time, catching five passes for 85 yards and one touchdown in a 24-21 loss to the Redskins.
By now you're probably already familiar with Miller's story; after sitting out the previous three full seasons due to injuries, he leads the Bears with five TD receptions—all in the last six games.
"Zach's had a very good year to date, fought through some things," coach John Fox said Monday. "I'm probably as proud of his accomplishments as anybody on the football team."
A candidate for NFL comeback player of the year, Miller appeared in 33 games over three seasons with the Jaguars from 2009-11 before his career was derailed. He spent the 2012 season on injured reserve with the Jaguars, failed to make the Buccaneers roster in 2013 and landed on injured reserve again with the Bears in 2014.
Through all the adversity, Miller never stopped chasing his dream.
"I've always been confident in my abilities and always believed in myself and that's kind of what got me through those three-and-a-half years of sitting at home being injured and working through stuff," he said. "I've always been confident and felt that I could make plays. Now it's just a matter of getting opportunities and taking advantage of it."
Miller shared his inspirational story while addressing teammates during a meeting Saturday night at the Bears' hotel.
"That's kind of a nerve-wracking situation," Miller said. "I've talked to kids and high school students, college students. But when it's your peers, you don't want to come off and be corny. You're talking to 60 grown men who are pretty self-motivated on their own. I just wanted to be genuine and speak from the heart and just talk about the opportunities we had and just tell them we can go lay it on the line. We get to play a game for a living; just go have fun."
Miller showed his passion for the game Sunday when he caught a 9-yard touchdown pass from Jay Cutler. The tight end beat cornerback DeAngelo Hall off the line on a quick slant and powered through safety Dashon Goldson into the end zone. Miller later spun away from a defender to turn a short pass into a 26-yard gain.
"I take pride in run-after-the-catch, being able to make people miss or throw a stiff-arm here or there," Miller said. "It's just one of those things you can add and prove that you're a playmaker."
Miller believes that he has the potential to be a regular No. 1 tight end in the NFL.
"I think everybody kind of approaches it that way," he said. "As a competitor, as an athlete, you don't look at yourself as, 'OK, I want to be a backup.' I want to be a starter. I feel confident in my abilities to do that and that's kind of just how you approach playing the game."
Miller has a big fan in Fox, who appreciates how the tight end has persevered through so many injuries.
"It's been unfortunate for him and I think it says a lot about him and his character what he's had to overcome and continue to work through," Fox said. "He shared a little bit of that with us Saturday night, and you just like seeing good things happen to good people."