|Chicago was was 7-3 on Nov. 20. Now they're 7-6 with two of their best offensive players on out with injuries. (Getty Images)|
By Ryan Wilson
On November 20, the Bears beat the Chargers to win their fifth game in a row. Their record stood at 7-3, and they appeared headed for a wild-card berth. But quarterback Jay Cutler sustained a broken thumb on his throwing hand against San Diego and in the three weeks since the Bears, with Caleb Hanie under center, are 0-3. Not helping: the team's second-best offensive weapon, running back Matt Forte, went down with a knee injury on December 4 and it's not clear when he'll return to the field.
"Day to day, I just see how it feels," Forte told ESPNChicago.com on Saturday. "It's always really stiff in the morning because I've been asleep. It hurts in the morning, but once I get warmed up, I just try to see how it feels. I've been doing some straight-ahead jogging this week which has been OK, but I'm nowhere near 100 percent. So it's not looking good for next week, I know that. ...
"These injuries, they usually take four to six weeks [to heal] they say," Forte said. "And this will only be week three. I'm not going to rush to get back on the field and play while I'm hurt, because you're not at 100 percent you may injure it even more if you do that."
The Bears need Forte in the worst way and it doesn't look like he'll be available to help them in time for a late playoff push. And that leads us to this: does that prove Forte's worth to the front office? He's in the last year of his rookie deal and is looking for a new contract, one that hadn't come before his December 4 injury.
Conventional wisdom suggests that Forte's productivity and his importance to the organization are reasons enough to keep him in Chicago. But months after the Titans backed up the truck to pay Chris Johnson only to watch him turn into one of the league's worst backs should also serve as a stark reminder that running backs, in general, are fungible.
Then again, how Chicago plays over the final three games of the regular season could demonstrate just how important Forte is to this offense. And as it stands, he has no intention of returning to the lineup until he's completely healthy.
"You got to make that decision personally," Forte said. "My mindset is kind of set on that. I'm not going to really go out there and play unless I'm 100 percent and I can run straight ahead and sprint and make cuts, because as a running back you have to make people miss. You can't just take on hits and get pounded on. You'll have more injuries to rehab."
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