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Bears’ Earl Bennett thinks healing hand will let him play Sunday

The Bears Earl Bennett stretches out past Colts Tom Zbikowski for end zone during first half their game Soldier Field

The Bears Earl Bennett stretches out past the Colts Tom Zbikowski for the end zone during the first half of their game at Soldier Field September 9, 2012. | Curtis Lehmkuhl~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: November 7, 2012 6:13AM

Wide receiver Earl Bennett, who missed Monday night’s game against the Dallas Cowboys with a hand injury, said his gut feeling is he’ll play Sunday at Jacksonville after practicing Friday. He’s listed as questionable.

‘‘It’s feeling a lot better. I’m able to catch the ball a lot better,’’ Bennett said. ‘‘I just look forward to this weekend to see what happens.’’

Bears coach Lovie Smith said Bennett was ‘‘making progress,’’ but he did not indicate a return to the lineup was imminent.

‘‘All guys need to practice, and when you miss time, it takes awhile to get back there,’’ Smith said when asked about Bennett’s ability to seamlessly return from an absence, as he did last year when he had five receptions for 95 yards and a touchdown against the Philadelphia Eagles after missing five games. ‘‘Earl is a guy that’s been around and knows how to get himself ready to play. That won’t be a problem. But still, practice is important.’’

How did Bennett suffer the injury?

‘‘It’s a long story. I’ll just [leave it at that],’’ he said.

But it was an on-the-field injury, he said.

‘‘It was football-related — that’s all I can say,’’ Bennett said with a chuckle.

Injury report

Fullback Evan Rodriguez (knee) is out for Sunday’s game. Tight end Matt Spaeth played Rodriguez’s role against the Cowboys.

Running back Matt Forte (ankle) and defensive end Julius Peppers (ankle) are listed as probable.

Knox hopeful

Wide receiver Johnny Knox, who has been on the physically unable to perform list since training camp after back surgery last season, said he is closer to returning to practice, but he could not give any timetable.

‘‘In camp I wasn’t where I wanted to be, but now it’s like night and day,’’ Knox said. ‘‘I’ve gotten better. I’m still getting better. When that day comes and I’m ready to get back out there, I’ll be back on the field.’’

New rules allow the Bears a three-week window to activate Knox after Week 6. Though it appears unlikely that will happen — Knox has yet to do any full-speed running or contact drills — he is confident he will play football again.

‘‘From the day of the surgery, the doctor told me I would be able to play again, and that’s still in my mind, that I will play,’’ Knox said. ‘‘I’ve been out there catching balls, running around, getting back in the groove of things you do as a wide receiver. I know that I can and will get back out there doing those types of things full speed.’’

The heat is on

Besides being on the road and on short rest, the Bears also will have to adjust to the Jacksonville heat Sunday. The predicted high is 90 degrees.

The Bears have not played in a game with a kickoff temperature above 76 degrees since Oct. 10, 2010, when they beat the Carolina Panthers 23-6 in Charlotte.

The Bears got off to a fast start in that game — 17 points and 280 all-purpose yards (21.5 yards per play) in the first quarter — but petered out. In the final three quarters, they scored six points and had 168 all-purpose yards (2.9 per play).

‘‘I think we’re pretty excited about going there,’’ Smith said, noting that he was wearing a stocking cap in the cool weather in Lake Forest. ‘‘Most guys don’t like playing in cold weather. Wherever we play, [the opponent is] going to be playing in the same conditions, so we’ll be OK.’’

No letting down

The Bears are 6-2 on short rest after playing on Monday nights under Smith. But they’re 1-2 on the road in that scenario. They lost to the Houston Texans 31-24 in the 2008 finale that determined their playoff fate, and to the New York Giants 17-3 in 2010. They beat the Detroit Lions 37-23 in a meaningless 2010 season finale.

‘‘If you have a good football team, you can’t let down,’’ Smith said. ‘‘I know what the statistics say, but if you’re a veteran team who takes care of business, you’ll play the same way every time you play. We raised the bar last week, and that’s how we’ve got to play.’’

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