Why Matt Forte's Injury Dooms the Bears' Playoff Hopes

Gary DavenportNFL AnalystSeptember 15, 2012

CHICAGO, IL - SEPTEMBER 09:  Matt Forte #22 of the Chicago Bears tries to break away from Tom Zbikowski #28 of the Indianapolis Colts during their 2012 NFL season opener at Soldier Field on September 9, 2012 in Chicago, Illinois. The Bears defeated the Colts 41-21.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The Chicago Bears appeared to be well on their way to a postseason berth in 2011 before injuries devastated the offense, and unfortunately for the Bears, it looks like déja vu all over again in the Windy City this season.

Not only were the Bears waxed by the Green Bay Packers 23-10 on Thursday night, but injury was added to insult when star running back Matt Forte suffered a sprained ankle in the third quarter and could not return.

The Bears have been exceptionally quiet about the extent of Forte's injury, but numerous media outlets, including Ian Rapoport of NFL.com and NFL Network (h/t Kareem Copeland of NFL.com), have reported that it is the dreaded high ankle sprain, which could sideline the 26-year-old through the Bears' bye week (Week 6).

By then, their 2012 season could already be circling the drain.

The importance of Forte, who gained nearly 1,500 total yards in 12 games last year, cannot be overstated; it was plainly on display in Thursday's loss. Before leaving the loss to the Packers, Forte was the only Bears offensive threat who was getting anything done against Green Bay. Even after basically playing half a game, the fifth-year pro finished the game as the Bears' leading receiver.

Now, Forte is out indefinitely, and his loss only serves to magnify the other problems that the Bears have on offense.

Granted, the potential loss of Forte to injury was one of the main reasons that the Bears brought in free agent running back Michael Bush in the offseason, and as the fifth-year veteran told Vaughn McClure of The Chicago Tribune, he's ready to step in and try to pick up the slack.

"That's why I'm here: They brought me here to pick up where (Forte) left off, if something went wrong,'' Bush said. "It's the insurance plan, I guess. I'll be ready.''

However, the fact of that matter is that Bush can't pick up the slack. Yes, Michael Bush is a capable NFL running back, but he's not nearly as explosive as Matt Forte, nor is he the threat to catch the ball out of the backfield that Forte is.

It's Forte's receiving ability that the Bears will most sorely miss, especially given the sorry state of the Chicago offensive line. Quarterback Jay Cutler was sacked seven times and harassed on countless other occasions in the loss to the Packers.

Unless that suddenly, magically changes, Cutler is going to desperately wish he had his safety valve to dump the ball off to. Given Cutler's career-long propensity for forcing the ball into coverage under pressure, Thursday's four-interception outing may not be Cutler's last of the season.

If the Bears have one thing going in their favor, it's that the scheduling gods have at least cut the team something of a break. None of the Bears' next three opponents (St. Louis, Dallas and Jacksonville) had a winning record in 2011, and only a Week 4 matchup in Texas against the Cowboys serves as a daunting task.

The Bears get their bye before a big NFC North matchup against the Lions at Soldier Field, and head coach Lovie Smith will no doubt be praying that the team has Matt Forte back and close to 100 percent for that contest.

Because frankly, without him they aren't going anywhere.