Sunday's 24-18 victory over the Buccaneers catapulted the 4-3 Bears back into the playoff picture, which they had been cropped out of after a 2-3 start.
Not only did the win allow the Bears to close within one game of the 5-2 Lions for second place in the NFC North, it gave them the first tie-breaker advantage over the 4-3 Bucs should those two teams wind up fighting for a wild-card spot. The Bears have the same advantage over the 4-3 Falcons, whom they defeated in the season opener.
If the season ended today, the Bears, Bucs and Falcons would all be tied for the sixth and last NFC playoff berth, with the 3-3 Cowboys and Redskins a half-game back. In that scenario, the Bears would be playoff bound.
But there remains much work to be done at Halas Hall in the two weeks before the Bears' next game on Nov. 7, a Monday Night Football appearance against the Eagles in Philadelphia. Despite the two-game win streak, there is still a lengthy to-do list for G.M. Jerry Angelo, coach Lovie Smith and his staff.
1. Get Matt Forte's name on a contract extension now. What more does the guy need to do to prove his value to the team. He's already piled up 1,091 yards from scrimmage, the first NFL player to do so in seven games since 2004. Forte is having a season for the ages. There isn't another player on the roster who can do what he does, and there might only be two or three running backs in the entire NFL capable of making the contributions he has made to an offense that is otherwise ordinary.
2. Cure Jay Cutler of his habit of throwing off his back foot while he's falling away from the throw. That cost Cutler an interception against the Bucs, when he underthrew tight end Kellen Davis and was picked off at the Bears' 35-yard line. The 14-yard return gave the Bucs a short field, and they capitalized with a touchdown. Just because Cutler's arm is strong enough to enable him to complete some passes with horrible mechanics, it doesn't mean he should. Cutler has improved in each of his three seasons with the Bears, but he will never be in the same category with Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees and Tom Brady if he doesn't become more accurate. That means better mechanics.
3. Instruct Devin Hester to catch every ball he can get to. Hester is the best there's ever been as a return specialist, but he has a maddening habit of allowing punts that won't be returned to hit the ground and bounce backwards for large chunks of negative yardage. It happened Sunday, when the Bears' defense forced a Bucs punt from the Tampa 20. Hester could easily have fair caught Michael Koenen's punt at the Bears' 35, but he didn't, and it rolled all the way to the Bears' 15. Catching a football on the run should be child's play for one of the greatest athletes in the game.
--Matt Forte went over the 100-yard rushing mark for the 11th time in his career Sunday in London, and for the third time in the past four weeks. Forte eclipsed the century mark before the second quarter was half over, and he finished with 145 yards on 25 carries.
His 32-yard run opened the scoring and was exceptional even by the lofty standards he has established this season. After getting around the right corner, he cut back three times while racing diagonally across the field, leaving three Tampa Bay defenders tackling air and two crashing into each other.
Forte said credit should go to his offensive line for their role in the 177-yard ground attack.
"It's not like I developed some special moves over the offseason," he said. "I would say (it's) great blocking, and good patience by the runners."
With 1,091 yards from scrimmage and 672 rushing yards, Forte is on pace for 2,494 yards from scrimmage and 1,536 rushing yards.
Forte has been pursuing a contract extension -- with no success -- since before training camp, but it clearly hasn't affected his performance.
"I'm motivated every year," he said. "I'm not worried about being motivated for whatever reason. It's not like I come out and play the game because I'm (upset) or something like that. I come out to succeed for my teammates and for myself."
In his past four games, three of them Bears victories, Forte has rushed for 553 yards, an average of 138 a game and 6.2 yards per carry.
"Matt Forte, he's just a great player," coach Lovie Smith said. "He's proven that every time he's played all year."
The Bears' offensive line dominated the Bucs throughout the first half, clearing the way for Forte and backup Marion Barber, who carried six times for 39 yards, including a 29-yard pickup in the second quarter that set up the Bears' second touchdown, and a 12-yard scoring run later that quarter.
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