Langford makes future even fuzzier for Forte in Bears’ victory

SHARE Langford makes future even fuzzier for Forte in Bears’ victory

Bears running back Jeremy Langford makes a reception against the Chargers on Monday night. (AP Photo/Denis Poroy)

It stinks to be Matt Forte.

It stinks to be Forte because, one game into his injury layoff, you just know that lots of people are now saying, “Matt who?”

Rookie Jeremy Langford played well in Forte’s absence Monday night in San Diego, rushing for 72 yards on 18 carries and catching 70 yards worth of passes. Oh, and he scored a touchdown and had a key two-point conversion in the Bears’ 22-19 victory over the Chargers.

“He ran extremely hard,’’ quarterback Jay Cutler said. “He knew exactly what to do.’’

Langford is not Forte. I thought I’d point that out before I get trampled by the Bears’ rebuilding plan.

It stinks to be Forte, who can’t ever seem to win. He’s up for a new contract after the season, and most NFL teams no longer see running backs as all-important. Mostly they see them as replaceable.

Forte appears to be the exception to a rule, which would be wonderful if he weren’t in a cookie-cutter industry that, on the field at least, is all about rules, no exceptions.

He’s the one running back who seems to be outrunning time and age.

The conventional wisdom is that running backs are disposable by the time they are 30. A 29-year-old Forte, on the other hand, is indispensable. Or is he?

We figured to get at least a hint of an answer Monday night. Forte was out with the strained knee ligament he suffered against the Vikings, giving Langford and Ka’Deem Carey, in his second NFL season, a chance to shine.

Could either do a decent imitation of Forte? Langford was very good. He made a beautiful diving catch for a 31-yard gain in the first quarter. He picked up blitzes. He didn’t look a bit like a rookie.

“Really what we expected,’’ Bears coach John Fox said. “We expect a lot.’’

It stinks to be Forte because he’s playing for a rebuilding team. Do the 3-5 Bears really want to re-sign a veteran running back who is making $7.1 million in base salary this season? Probably not. If they truly want a fresh start, it’s hard to see them plunking down tons of money for Forte in the offseason.

The Bears held on to him at the trade deadline last week, perhaps because they saw there wasn’t a market for a running back who turns 30 next month.

But what if Forte is one of those rare running backs who plays younger than his age? What if he’s 29 going on 24? And what if Langford, a fourth-round pick, looks different after a few more games?

Forte has never fit neatly into whatever thinking has held sway at any particular time in the NFL. It’s a trap I fell into while watching him in his early years with the Bears. Surely such a lean, upright slasher of a running back wouldn’t be able to take all the pounding, would he? Surely he would.

Until Monday, he had missed a total of five games in seven and a half seasons, and only one game in the previous three. Going into this season, he had averaged 1,100 rushing yards and 60 receptions a year. That included 102 catches last season, an NFL record for running backs.

That’s a statistical way of saying that where other backs might be slowing down, he hasn’t.

“I feel like I can continue to play as long as I want to,’’ he had said in May. And maybe he can.

It’s obvious Forte is a proud man. Under the surface of some of what he says is the question, “Hey, what about me? What about what I’ve done and what I can still do?”

And the truth, if the Bears can get past what NFL groupthink tells them, is that a certain running back isn’t slowing down as he approaches 30.

Forte tried to publicly make his case for a new contract in May, but it apparently didn’t help with the front office.

“You just figure … a guy who’s been there since Day 1, continues to put in hard work and has produced, you figure that that guy should be rewarded,’’ he said. “But in this business that doesn’t always happen.’’

Especially for running backs.

Lots of people are on board with the Bears’ rebuilding plan, which is fine. Not much else has worked the past decade or so. But everyone should think long and hard about a future without Forte. It might not be as rosy as it sounds, no matter how well a rookie played Monday night.

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