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Matt Forte hurt, so Bears rookie has to 'step up big'

He knew what he’d done as the ball fell to the ground, forcing the Bears to punt and, 1:17 later, lose their second-straight game on the final play.

Playing for Matt Forte, who limped to the locker room with a right knee injury, rookie running back Jeremy Langford dropped a sure-fire first down on a third-and-5 pass with the game tied. Jay Cutler rolled right and hit him in both hands.

“Just me not focusing like I should have on the ball,” Langford said. “Just catching the ball first before trying to run.”

There’s a metaphor somewhere in there, buried beneath the rubble of Sunday’s 23-20 loss to the division rival Vikings at Soldier Field.

Coach John Fox told the Bears that great teams find ways to win close games, and good teams know how to give them away. The Bears are closer to a No. 1 draft pick than the outskirts of the playoff race. And they might have to go forward without their most steady player.

In the third quarter, Forte caught a pass from Cutler and was tackled by Vikings safety Harrison Smith, who hit the running back’s right knee with his right foot planted in the ground. Both Forte’s legs flew into the air. He did not twist his knee.

Forte walked himself to the locker room, had tests and did not speak to the media.

Fox didn’t want to speculate about the injury’s severity. Regardless of the diagnosis, Sunday’s collision has one lasting effect: it likely quashes any slim chance the Bears would trade Forte, in the final year of his deal, before Tuesday’s deadline.

Forte, who had 10 carries for 41 yards and four catches for 28, was “definitely up there” on the list of players the Bears could least afford to lose, Cutler said. He and offensive coordinator Adam Gase praised Forte’s versatility just this week.

“I think Jeremy Langford is in that mold,” Cutler said. “He doesn’t have the experience that Matt does, by any means, but he can catch, he can run, he can block.”

If he misses significant time, Langford’s playing time would mark another changing of the guard in a season full of them. As they try to balance veteran skill and new blood, the Bears are still learning how to win. For the fourth-straight game Sunday, the winning score came with 18 seconds left in regulation or later.

Langford, their fourth-round pick, had 12 carries for 46 yards and dropped the only ball thrown his way. Outside linebacker Pernell McPhee wasn’t ready to blame youth, saying, “I don’t believe in growing pains.”

Cutler said Langford has to “step up big” if Forte is lost. He’s learned from one of the best, at least.

“Just really try to put everything on the field that he taught me so far, since I’ve been here in OTAs and minicamp,” Langford said. ”Being able to out there to do the same thing he did when he was out there.”

Follow me on Twitter @patrickfinley

Email: pfinley@suntimes.com