CHICAGO -- Left guard Chris Williams heaved himself into a defender, and took a quick peek back before pumping his arms in jubilation as if it were automatic.
“I blocked the guy, I knew [center Roberto] Garza was behind me,” he explained. “When I hit him, I saw [running back] Matt [Forte] pop through, and I was like, ‘Ain’t nobody gonna catch him.’ Once he’s through there, nobody’s gonna catch him.”
That’s how Williams described Forte’s 17-yard touchdown in the second quarter, which was part of a career-best 205-yard eruption for the running back in the Bears 34-29 triumph over the Carolina Panthers.
Forte tied for the franchise’s second-most rushing yards in a game, joining Walter Payton and Gale Sayers as the only players in franchise history to rush for 200 yards or more in a single contest. Forte also gained a career-high 228 yards from scrimmage.
The productive day made Forte nostalgic.
“It reminded me of my senior year at Tulane, every weekend getting 200 yards,” Forte said. “All the credit goes to the offensive line. The holes were huge. Even towards the end of the game we kept pounding them and pounding them. The offensive line wore the defense out.”
Collectively, the team’s 224 yards against the Panthers goes down as the team’s best rushing day since Sept. 25, 1988, when the Bears ran for 242 yards against the Green Bay Packers.
“We got a running game going. We had almost 30 rushes,” Bears coach Lovie Smith said. “Matt Forte, whenever you go over 200 yards as a runner, a lot of good things were happening during the day and that was the case.”
Forte’s rushing performance marked his best since Oct. 10 of last season, when the running back put on a 166-yard, two touchdown clinic against -- this isn’t deja vu -- the Carolina Panthers. Payton was the last Chicago Bear to crank out a 200-yard rushing day, when he ripped the Minnesota Vikings on Nov. 29, 1977 for 275 yards on 40 attempts.
Forte averaged 12.8 yards on his first five rushes of the afternoon, and seemed to set the tone for the game with a 46-yard run on the team’s opening drive. By halftime, Forte had run for 94 yards, averaging 10.4 yards per attempt.
“We had a lot of fun out there,” said center Roberto Garza. “Obviously, Matt did most of the work himself. But the offensive line, we were celebrating the whole time. It was a great day to be out there; a great day to see Matt and how explosive he is.”
In making up for a run-pass ratio of 24 to 82 over the past two weeks, the Bears ran the ball 31 times while passing on 17 occasions as part of a game plan formulated in the week of preparation, designed to take advantage of Carolina’s vulnerability against the run.
“The coaches felt like we could come out and run the ball on them,” Williams said. “We had a real good run plan, and I’m extremely happy for Matt to go out there and get 200 yards. That’s awesome for him.”
It bodes well for the team too, apparently.
Since Forte came into the league in 2008, the Bears are 9-0 when he rushes for 100 yards or more. Forte entered the game Sunday with 406 yards from scrimmage, which ranked him No. 5 in the NFL. But with 634 yards against the Panthers, he’s sure to climb into the top three.
The outing against the Panthers marked astronomical improvement for Forte, who rushed for just 2 yards on nine attempts last week in the team’s loss to the Green Bay Packers.
“Downhill running is what gets the running game started,” Forte said. “We started running downhill in the first quarter and kept it through the whole game. We knew as an offense we would run the ball. We just had to establish that first and continue to do that. We didn’t need to throw the ball. It was a great day out there.”