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Bears’ running back trio outshines Bucs star

TAMPA, Fla. – While Ka’Deem Carey was dancing like Michael Jackson and Jeremy Langford was lowering his shoulder and running over safeties, veteran running back Matt Forte did what he could to return from an ailing back.

The Bears’ medical staff tended to Forte for a considerable amount of time in the second half. He was stretched out while kneeling and twisted about while laying face up.

“I had a little nick,” Forte said after the Bears’ 26-21 victory over the Buccaneers Sunday at Raymond James Stadium. “Running backs, you get these nicks and stuff. I was trying to go back in, and they told me [I didn’t] need to really at that point go back in. But I’ll be all right.”

It’s a scenario that encapsulates Forte’s current situation: The Bears need him until they don’t.

Forte, 30, is in a contract year and remains a productive and respected captain. He had 14 touches for 77 total yards against the Bucs, which included eight carries for 45 yards in the first half.

But Langford and Carey continue to show that they might be a capable duo next season should Forte leave in free agency. Sunday was just the most recent example.

Langford ran for 83 yards on 19 carries. Carey had 16 yards on seven carries — six on the Bears’ final possession — but scored on a one-yard run and one-yard catch.

Both of Carey’s touchdowns came when he was at fullback in one of the Bears’ goal-line formations. Langford was behind him in an I-formation, which made for matchup issues.

It’s a look that Carey said was added to the playbook three or four weeks ago. He was wide open on his touchdown reception seconds into the fourth quarter, which came after a play-fake to Langford.

“It’s hard to game plan for who is getting the ball,” Langford said.

Langford and Carey admire and respect Forte. Being able to watch and learn from one of the greatest players in Bears history has been invaluable. After the game, Carey mentioned the big brother-like influence Forte has had on him.

“We’ve got three guys staying fresh, never really getting too dinged up for the whole game,” Langford said. “It’s hard to stop us when we’re all running hard like that.”

But for how long?

All that is guaranteed for Forte is the season finale against the Lions. Forte is open to a shared workload and wants to return, but he’s also acknowledged that his days might be numbered.

The game against the Bucs, though, did provide reasons for keeping all three. With receiver Alshon Jeffery out with a hamstring injury and Eddie Royal dealing with an illness, establishing a run game was essential to the Bears’ game plan.

“We knew we were going to have to,” quarterback Jay Cutler said.

Credit goes to the offensive line, which included Vladimir Ducasse at right guard, for a strong, physical performance. Forte, Langford and Carey combined for 37 carries and 153 yards. The Bucs opened Week 16 with the No. 9 rushing defense, allowing an average of 94.4 yards. The Bears surpassed that in the first half.

“Our offensive line was just finishing their blocks,” said Forte, who only had three carries in the second half. “I’d get tackled and I’d see guys coming over the pile still finishing their blocks, playing to the echo of the whistle.”

Together, Forte, Langford and Carey outperformed Bucs star back Doug Martin, who had the NFL’s rushing title in his sights. Martin had 17 carries for 49 yards and a four-yard touchdown run, but also lost two fumbles.

“We definitely showed that three backs is definitely better than one,” Carey said. “Everybody did their job, and we got the win.”

Follow me on Twitter @adamjahns
Email: ajahns@suntimes.com