Matt Forte continues to pile up yards and add to his bargaining power.
Unable to land the contract extension he wanted, Forte is producing in a big way for the Chicago Bears. At 4-3 and with two straight wins, they head into their bye weekend looking more like a playoff team after a rough start.
They can thank Forte, who leads the league with 1,091 yards from scrimmage and is challenging the record set by Tennessee's Chris Johnson (2,509) in 2009.
"It lets me know that the hard work in the offseason pays off," Forte said Wednesday. "It makes you feel good that I'm being successful on the field, and I want to continue to be successful out there."
The payoff for Forte could be a lucrative contract when his rookie deal expires at the end of the season.
He came into the season seeking an extension, but couldn't get one, so talks stopped.
He was reportedly offered a deal that guaranteed about $13 million or $14 million, but might have been looking for something closer to the five-year, $43 million contract with $21 million guaranteed that Carolina gave DeAngelo Williams.
The Bears can place the franchise player tag on him if he hits the open market so they still have some power at the moment. Either way, they'll have to pay to keep him.
For now, he might be the league's biggest bargain, making $600,000 this season.
He's third in the league with 672 yards rushing after going for 116 or more yards in three of the past four games, and is averaging 5.4 yards per carry on the season. He also leads the Bears in receptions (38) and yards receiving (419).
Forte was so good in the Bears' 24-18 win over Tampa Bay in London on Sunday, running for 145 yards and a touchdown, that linebacker Brian Urlacher called him "the best player in the NFL right now."
QB Jay Cutler had more praise on Wednesday.
Asked if there is a better all-around running back, he said, "Nah, not even close. What he can do (on) first, second and third down in the passing game and the running game, inside and outside - if we lose him, we've got a lot of issues."
Forte continues to excel even though he's running behind a line that still ranks among the league's worst.
The blocking has been better of late and so has the balance, with the Bears committing more toward the run after ignoring it at times. If he continues at this rate, he'll finish with 2,494 yards from scrimmage.
That would put him second on the single-season list just behind Johnson and ahead of Marshall Faulk, who came through with 2,429 yards for St. Louis in 1999.
Back then, Mike Martz was the Rams' offensive coordinator. Now, he's running the Bears' offense, and what Forte's doing might be more impressive.
After all, Faulk had Orlando Pace blocking for him in his prime.
"Well, they're different guys, but they certainly do the same kinds of things," offensive coordinator Mike Martz said. "The intelligence there - the football IQ is off the charts with Matt. You can tell him in the classroom and he has it. He is not one of those guys who you have to go up to and walk through it or anything like that. There are just so many things you can do with him. His speed is really unusual. Getting him in the perimeter is a priority. He's become a terrific inside runner. There really isn't anything he can't do very well or understand, which makes him pretty darn good."
-In an interview posted on the team's website, GM Jerry Angelo indicated he has no interest in bringing back former Bears WR Bernard Berrian after he was released by Minnesota.
"Right now we're doing everything we can to get our receivers in a groove. We just talked about Roy. Then there's Johnny Knox, Devin Hester and Earl Bennett will be back now," Angelo said. "It's not about the quantity of receivers; it's about the quality. What Bernard can do well, we have receivers who can do those same things. We certainly have respect for Bernard and like Bernard. We just don't want to run up and down the starting line because when you bring players in they take reps, and then whose reps does he take?"
-Bennett, who's been sidelined since Sept. 18 with a chest injury, is looking forward to playing again. He practiced last week but did not play.
"That'll mean a lot," he said. "I'm a competitor. I like to go out, play, play hard. We definitely got to get this victory, keep this win streak going."
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