The Chicago Bears have been searching for years for the next great heir apparent to Walter Payton, and while guys like Neal Anderson, Rashan Salaam, Curtis Enis, and Cedric Benson have all come in and failed to live up to their hype, it’s been a second round pick out of Tulane that has done better than all of those players.
Matt Forte was a player that the Bears enthusiastically drafted with that second round selection, and he has been filling up the stat sheet ever since. So far in his six year career, Forte has rushed for 6178 yards and 33 touchdowns, and is already the second leading rusher in team history behind only Payton. Forte is also third on the team’s all-time list for most yards from scrimmage, and will pass Anderson with only 12 more combined rushing and receiving yards.
He’ll have to be in a Bears uniform for a long time to even come close to Payton’s 16,726 rushing yards, but the point is that among players who have run for the Monsters of the Midway, he is already in rarified air.
This season, Forte has been even more crucial to the Bears. He is averaging 4.5 yards per carry in the team’s 11 games so far, and is on pace to catch 81 passes, which would shatter his career high mark of 63 from his rookie season with the team.
With so much attention paid to the Bears’ receiving weapons this season, Forte has seemed like his impact on the game has been shoved under the rug. His three touchdowns against the Washington Redskins were instrumental in getting the Bears back into the contest after Jay Cutler went down with a groin injury in the second quarter, and he also had a big impact against the Minnesota Vikings in Week 2, racking up 10 catches for 73 yards in the Bears’ narrow victory.
Forte also was excellent despite the Bears’ loss to the Rams on Sunday. In that game, he rushed 16 times for 77 yards, including a brilliant 26-yard run that set up the Bears deep in the red zone. He also had seven catches for 40 yards, and even though his first quarter fumble did end up costing the Bears a touchdown, he clearly was the most motivated guy on the field for the offense after that play, and his enthusiasm was infectious throughout the rest of the squad.
It’s that kind of ability to perform both running the ball and catching it out of the backfield that had many Bears fans holding their breath on Sunday when Forte came up lame after getting tackled in the fourth quarter of the game. Head coach Marc Trestman called the injury a “slight hyperextension” of his right knee, and even though Forte did finish the game, there is no word on whether or not his status for Sunday’s game against the Vikings is in jeopardy.
Losing Forte would be a huge loss to an offense that is already trying to pick up the slack of a bruised and battered defense, and it would be nearly impossible for the Bears’ other running backs to match Forte’s speed and elusiveness. Michael Ford hasn't been given many opportunities this season out of the backfield, and Michael Bush has averaged under two yards a carry so far this year, and actually has had zero total rushing yards in his last three games.
More so than any other player, Forte has proved to be the most indispensable skill position player on the roster this season, and losing him would be the death knell for the Bears’ flickering playoff hopes.