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Matt Forte’s injury brings Bears’ wisdom, shortsightedness into focus

Quarterback Jay Cutler who might be out for seaswith broken thumb his right htalks with backup Caleb Hanie Bears’ bench

Quarterback Jay Cutler, who might be out for the season with a broken thumb on his right hand, talks with backup Caleb Hanie on the Bears’ bench in the fourth quarter Sunday at Soldier Field. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Updated: January 6, 2012 8:17AM

When the Bears and Matt Forte couldn’t agree on a contract extension this season, it was risky business for everyone involved.

The Bears are about to be reminded of their portion of the risk.

There is no incentive for Forte to rush back from the sprained medial collateral ligament in his right knee he suffered in the Bears’ 10-3 loss Sunday to the Kansas City Chiefs. None.

Why would he chance a more serious injury when he doesn’t have the long-term contract security he has been chasing all season? Why should he slap on a knee brace and play if it threatens his future earning power?

Pride? Loyalty? How quaint.

It’s why the Bears’ chances of making the playoffs have been reduced to a few wisps of smoke.

Their thinking was sound when they refused to give Forte the huge payday he was seeking: Giving running backs big bucks doesn’t make sense. They’re crash-test dummies, and their skills often diminish quickly.

So the Bears were right in not caving in to his demands, but what happened Sunday was the inherent gamble in that stance: Without the contract he wants, Forte has no reason to play hurt. Players with sprained MCLs usually are out two to four weeks. No one should be surprised if Forte’s absence is of the four-week variety, which means that — with four games left in the season — no one should be surprised if he is done for 2011.

‘‘He’s a competitor,’’ receiver Roy Williams said. ‘‘That’s what we are: We’re competitors. A lot of people don’t play this game for money. I don’t. I could quit right now and be fine [financially]. I play because I love the game and I want to compete.

‘‘That’s the same with Forte. If he can play, he’s going to play, no matter the money situation.’’

Williams really needs to stop watching ‘‘Rudy.’’

General manager Jerry Angelo can be forgiven if he saw Forte lying on the field in the first quarter and thought, ‘‘That’s why we don’t pay running backs.’’

But he saw the fallout in a terrible loss to a very bad Chiefs team. The Bears couldn’t move the ball without their star running back and with quarterback Caleb Hanie, who played so poorly that the cries for Donovan McNabb now are deafening. Never mind that McNabb can’t play anymore. Most Bears fans would prefer a new brand of bad. Hard to blame them.

Now you know what life without Forte and Jay Cutler looks like, not that anyone was in a hurry to find out. And now you want the bad dream to end and for everything to be as it was before, with Forte making defenders miss and Cutler squeezing passes into tight spaces.

Say hello to reality. It’s hard to envision how this team, even with a 7-5 record, can make the playoffs.

What we saw Sunday wasn’t a football game; it was a Superfund cleanup site. Even though Hanie was sacked seven times, he didn’t walk away a sympathetic character. That’s hard to do. He threw three interceptions, one of which was caused by Williams’ drop at the goal line. The Bears didn’t have a first down in the first quarter. Hanie finished with a 23.8 passer rating.

The Bears managed to make Chiefs quarterback Tyler Palko look decent. I didn’t think anybody could do that. The Chiefs replaced Palko with Kyle Orton to start the second quarter, then inexplicably called a flea-flicker on Orton’s first play, leading to a finger injury and his quick return to the sideline.

There was mass ugliness. Dumb penalties followed dumb coaching decisions. Robbie Gould missed a field goal. Devin Hester forgot how to fair-catch a football. Oh, and a resodded Soldier Field looked like a bad mohawk.

The Chiefs scored their only touchdown on a Hail Mary pass that Brian Urlacher and Chris Conte knocked down into the hands of running back Dexter McCluster. That’s how it was.

As expected, coach Lovie Smith spent his postgame news conference talking about this being just one loss and about the Bears’ ‘‘great’’ playoff prospects.

‘‘We’re one win away from feeling a lot better,’’ he said.

That one win feels far, far away.

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