- Melissa Isaacson, Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- If you expected Matt Forte to say now that he has his new contract, it doesn't matter how many touchdowns he scores, you were wrong.
If you expected him to somehow stop running as if every step was an attempt to prove he is truly one of the elite backs in the league; or that his overall production would suffer, well it looks like that's going to be proven incorrect as well.
If we expected Forte to lose his edge or to suddenly become diplomatic, thank goodness that's not going to happen either.
After he made sure that one bad series and another potentially disastrous one to begin the 2012 season for the Chicago Bears did not dictate the momentum for the rest of the game Sunday by breaking off a 32-yard run around left end and then spinning his way to the Indianapolis 1-yard line with a 15-yard gain -- first-year Bears running back Michael Bush was handed the ball to punch it in. Bush was stopped for no gain on the first attempt before scoring over right tackle to even the score at 7-all.
The next time the Bears offense found itself in the red zone, two possessions later, Jay Cutler dumped a 3-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Marshall. And the next time, still in the second quarter, it was Bush scoring again on another 1-yard run.
Asked about the fact that it was not his number called at those points, Forte didn't hesitate.
"It's happened my whole career here so I don't know," he said after the Bears' 41-21 victory over the Indianapolis Colts. "That's the coordinator's call."
It has happened a lot here. Somehow this notion that Forte is not the dependable sort you need in the red zone was propagated through the years until, lo and behold, it entered into contract negotiations as one back after another was brought in to get the so-called tough yards.
Good for Forte to not be the perfect sport now that he has signed his new deal for four years, $31.4 million, including $17 million in guarantees. It doesn't mean that he's a bad sport or a selfish player. It means he still has the same edge that got him to this point.
"Best back in the league," Marshall responded when asked for his first regular-season impressions of his new teammate. "I don't think there's any comparison out there. You have the Chris Johnsons, you have the Adrian Petersons, you have the kid in Houston (Arian Foster). They run very well, but Matt does it all.
"He catches the ball, he blocks on third down and, of course, he runs the ball really well. So he's the total package, and that's what you want out of a running back. He can play for years and he can play every down."
Forte's knee injury sustained in the fifth-to-last game last season is now a blip. And Bush's signing, though irksome to Forte while he remained unsigned last spring, already looks like a winning combination, laughably better than Marion Barber or Chester Taylor and, take nothing away from Forte, a great option in short-yardage situations.
Forte thinks so too. Bush gained 42 yards on 12 carries Sunday, including a 20-yard scamper around right end on the Bears' first series of the second half. First-year Bears offensive coordinator Mike Tice, whether he was consciously trying to spread the wealth or not, had Forte carry the ball on a 6-yard gain from the Colts' 12-yard line two plays later, and then gave Forte the ball again as he scored from six yards out to give the Bears a 31-14 lead.
Forte did not have the kind of day that is going to make any lists of Sunday's leaders on the NFL's opening weekend. And Forte fantasy team owners were surely grumbling about Tice's play-calling on Bush's two touchdowns.
But Forte finished with 80 yards rushing on 16 carries for one touchdown and 40 yards receiving on three catches, a great day by any standards, and with two more touchdowns from Bush, a phenomenal day for the running game.
"It's very exciting having two great backs like that," offensive tackle Chris Williams said. "They're both going to get their fair share of touches. I don't think it's a big deal. Matt's a team guy, we're all team guys, so we just want to win. I don't think it matters who scores as long as we get in there."
Forte does not disagree.
"Michael can do it all as well," he said. "He can catch the ball on third downs and there's no limitations when I come out of the game. It's not like if I come out on third down that he can't do the same thing. He can block just as good and catch the ball out of the backfield."
Forte's two big carries to ignite the Bears' offense in the first quarter was vintage him. And while it did not signal a departure from the passing game, Tice did call a balanced game (35 pass plays to 33 runs) in the end and he did get the ball to Forte, whether in the air or on the ground, at opportune times.
"I always want the ball," Forte said. "I'm not going to go out there and say, 'Give me the ball, Coach,' or anything like that. But we know that to get the game really started and get the jitters out, you have to run the ball."
It is going to be hard at times to resist letting Cutler fling it around. But if Sunday was any indication, Cutler will mix in enough short passes and Bears receivers are capable of running well after the catch. More importantly, Tice is not likely to be stubborn about any of it.
"Coach Tice is creative and he knows how to use the talent on our offense, I'll say that," Forte said. "He knows how to get the ball in those guys' hands and not just harp on one guy, spread the ball around and get a lot of explosive plays out of everybody in the passing game as well as the running game."
Sounds like a winning combo.
Matt Forte demonstrates he deserves a big part in balanced Bears offense.