Heading into yesterday's game against the Green Bay Packers, Chicago Bears running back Matt Forte was the NFL's fourth leading rusher and had recently been selected for the Pro Bowl. After having one of his best games as a Bear, Forte's ranking may go up a notch or two, but he and his teammates will be watching the playoffs from home.
Against the Packers on Sunday, Forte gave it his all, scoring three times and leading the Bears with 110 rushing yards. He also added four receptions for 47 yards. Yet it wasn't enough to beat a surging Green Bay fourth-quarter offensive effort. After the game, Forte reluctantly spoke to reporters in the locker room.
"How did the whole day go?" Forte said. "I don't know if I can even answer that right now."
Forte described standing on the sidelines as Green Bay's game-winning scoring drive unfolded in front of him.
"It was difficult to say the least," said Forte. "What was going through my mind was wishing we could have kept the ball longer, kept something going. We had a few penalties, a few times when we weren't able to make first downs that we needed. Had we done that, maybe we could have kept Green Bay out of the end zone, or gotten close enough for a field goal. There's nothing we can do about all of that right now. It's painful to think back upon."
Forte finished the year with 1,339 rushing yards and 12 rushing touchdowns, along with 74 catches and 594 receiving yards, good for 1,933 yards from scrimmage – all of which are career highs.
"All the stats are fine," Forte said. "I guess it's good that I had a career game but really once you get down to it all of that is meaningless because we are not moving on. It's harder to come so close and think you will be going on, then you find out that is not going to happen. This game will give us a lot to think about during the offseason."
With the loss, the Bears will miss the playoffs for the sixth time the past seven years.
"What is this, six out of seven years that we've gone home instead of heading to the playoffs? Every single time it's frustrating but I believe that the frustration builds over time," said Forte. "This year we were exactly in the position we needed to be in. We could have locked it up last week against the Eagles but we didn't do that. Today we had another chance against Green Bay. Didn't finish that one. Everything was lined up for us but we couldn't come through. There's nobody to blame but ourselves."
Forte is signed through 2015 but with roughly half the team set to his free agency, he acknowledge the forthcoming roster turnover.
"It's always difficult this time of year as you never know for sure who will be coming back," he said. "That's part of the NFL though. Every locker room ends up different every single year. It's never the same. It's difficult. You spend so much time with these guys here that they become your brothers. Then somebody new comes in and you start all over again. You miss the guys who leave. You never see them after that as much as you'd want to."
Forte said he won't look back at the 2013 season as one of significant personal achievement but rather as a year of lost opportunities for his team.
"I'm not satisfied. None of us are today. I won't look back at this season with enjoyment because we didn't achieve what we set out to do at the beginning of the year."
Beth Gorr has been covering the Bears for the last 12 years and is the author of Bear Memories: The Chicago-Green Bay Rivalry. She is currently working on a second book about early Bears history.