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Bears go back to their Forte -- running

Bears running back Matt Forte is stopped short goaline by Carolinsafety Sherrod Martfourth quarter as he gained 205 yards day.

Bears running back Matt Forte is stopped short of the goaline by Carolina safety Sherrod Martin in the fourth quarter as he gained 205 yards on the day. The Chicago Bears defeated the Carolina Panthers 34-29 Sunday October 2, 2011 at Soldier Field. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Updated: October 3, 2011 12:15AM



These being the super-secretive Bears, it’s hard to know whether offensive coordinator Mike Martz had an epiphany about the running game last week or whether the epiphany was thrust upon him.

What we do know is that Matt Forte rushed for a career-high 205 yards Sunday against the Panthers. We also know the Bears won 34-29.

Forte had 25 carries, and you couldn’t help but wonder if the pass-happy Martz called those plays through gritted teeth. Forte’s teammates were so excited for him that they deserve an agent’s percentage.

“You got to put some change in his pocket,’’ Bears cornerback D.J. Moore said of the running back’s quest for a big contract.

Well, you knew somebody was going to say that. The breaking news would have been if someone had said it last week after Forte ran nine times for two yards against the Packers.

That sickly rushing total led to a near public uprising in rugged Chicago, where people consider themselves down to earth, not aloft like a dainty spiral. When the Bears are winning, Martz’s infatuation with the passing plays in his massive playbook is considered the eccentricity of a mastermind. When they don’t win, it’s considered a really, really bad way to go.

When the Bears began preparing in earnest for the Panthers last week, it was obvious that someone had put his foot down. We’ll assume it was the foot of head coach Lovie Smith, who talks a good game about the running attack but too often lets Martz go off on his flights of fancy.

“[Running] was the plan,’’ Smith said. “We don’t just get out there and make up stuff.’’

What Martz needs to understand is that there is more than one way to be a genius offensive coordinator. It’s not just that the line blocked well and that Forte ran well Sunday. It’s that Martz or someone acting in Martz’s best interest saw that Carolina would need an extra defender or 10 to stop the run. Perhaps the 166 yards Forte had against the Panthers last season was a hint.

The Bears need to be somewhere in the middle on the run/pass ratio, but they could be forgiven for their imbalance Sunday. When the Bears go to Detroit in a week, the Lions will have more to worry about than whether Roy Williams is going to drop another Jay Cutler pass. They’re going to have to think about the possibility that Forte will take off on a 46-yard run like the one he had on his second carry against the Panthers.

“It makes you want to make some plays on defense so we can get the offense the ball,’’ linebacker Brian Urlacher said. “When we run the ball like that, we’re going to be tough to stop. We all know how well Jay throws the football.’’

This is basic stuff, and it begs the question: How could a group of coaches have gotten as far off center as the Bears’ coaches did against the Packers? The answer isn’t very satisfying, but it’s true: Sometimes people get so caught up in what they’re doing that they can’t see what they should be doing.

The Bears ran the ball nine straight times to start Sunday’s game. Cutler’s first pass attempt came early in the second quarter. It was as if Martz had taken a vow of poverty.

“Just another day at the office, another solid performance and a team win,’’ guard Chris Williams said.

But it wasn’t another day for Williams, who said he had never blocked for a 200-yard rusher.

It felt like old times for Forte.

“It reminded me of my senior year at Tulane, every weekend getting 200 yards,’’ he said. “All the credit goes to the offensive line. The holes were huge.’’

Forte’s 205 rushing yards tied Gale Sayers and Walter Payton for the second most in Bears history. Payton’s 275 yards against Minnesota in 1977 is the team record.

“It was fun,’’ Williams said. “It was a good time.’’

The Bears’ defense wasn’t in quite as jovial a mood. Cam Newton, Carolina’s rookie quarterback, threw for 374 yards. The Panthers ran 72 plays, the Bears 49. But sometimes you have to give a nod to the opponent. Newton is a beast. Arm tackles aren’t enough to bring him down in the pocket. With his size and the strength of his arm, he’s going to be a force.

Martz would love a guy like this, as you’d expect. The surprise is that he seems to be finding room in his heart for Forte as a runner. Unless someone made him find room.



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