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Another strong effort by Matt Forte puts Bears GM on hotter seat

Bears running back Matt Forte (22) breaks tackle  Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh first quarter Monday Detroit.

Bears running back Matt Forte (22) breaks the tackle of Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh in the first quarter Monday in Detroit. | Paul Sancya~AP

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Updated: November 16, 2011 12:29PM

DETROIT — Before kickoff Monday night, Bears general manager Jerry Angelo insisted he’s not surprised by running back Matt Forte’s strong start.

“We anticipated Matt having a great season like he’s having. It isn’t new. That’s why we did what we did,” Angelo said, referring to the club making Forte’s extension the top priority during training camp. “I don’t want that message to get lost, that we were trying to do something before we felt Matt was going to be good.”

At this pace, though, the price keeps going up.

In prime time, Forte shined.

He finished with 22 carries for 116 yards, and he hauled in four catches for 35 yards in a 24-13 loss to the Detroit Lions.

Asked if he can carry the offense, Forte said, “I’ve always been prepared to carry the load.

“As a running back, you have to run, catch and block. And whatever they call on me to do, I’m prepared to do. It’s not going to change.”

Until he’s no longer a Bear.

Angelo reported before the game that there was no progress toward a deal with his star running back, reiterating what Forte’s agent, Adisa Bakari, told the Sun-Times last week.

“There really is nothing new,” Angelo said. “We did what I ­consider our very best. I know they tried as well. We weren’t able to get it accomplished.

“I’ve been through a few of these,” Angelo said, “and when you take these things into the season, it’s not good for anybody. So I’m not saying that we can’t get it done. I’m not saying that.

“But our focus is on the season.”

Whenever Angelo decides to shift his attention back to Forte, though, the price tag will be higher.

Asked about that last week, ­Bakari said, “We’ve stated, from the very beginning, the longer we wait, the more difficult and ­complicated it becomes.

“Matt, to date, is performing at an ultra-elite level, and that’s an indisputable reality.”

As Angelo pointed out, the Bears hold the leverage.

“We don’t have to do anything,” Angelo said. “We just have to play good football. Eventually it will take care of itself.”

The Bears have $18 million in salary-cap space, and they will surely use some of that to sign players to new contracts before the season ends.

Forte is expected to cost about $8 million for 2012, a handsome raise for him but markedly cheaper than what several notable and prominent running backs have ­collected this year.

But the Bears do hold a wild card: the franchise tag.

Will Forte be as cooperative as he was this past offseason?

In addition, with a handful of traditionally aggressive teams struggling to get production at running back, the Bears might have to strike while the proverbial iron is hot before next year’s draft.

But Forte keyed the offense against the Lions.

In the first half, despite the obvious issues of the offensive line, Forte turned 15 carries into 84 yards, providing enough timely runs to help the Bears work through some issues — namely false starts, to the tune of four in the first quarter.

After the Lions scored on the second play of the second quarter, to take a 7-0 lead, Forte ripped off a 14-yard run. The Bears ended up making a 44-yard field goal.

On the next eries, Forte took the first carry 19 yards then his second carry 23 yards. Four plays later, quarterback Jay Cutler completed a nine-yard touchdown pass to tight end Kellen Davis.

He also had a 16-yard run midway through the third quarter, but he dropped a first down pass to end the drive.

“We were trying to throw the ball down the field a little more” he said. “I had a chance to make a play on third down and I missed the ball. That’s my fault.”

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