Chicago Bears

Playoffs Aren't the Only Thing at Stake for Bears, Forte Knee Injury

CHICAGO, IL - DECEMBER 4: Matt Forte #22 of the Chicago Bears lays on the field after being injured on a hit by Derrick Johnson #56 of the Kansas City Chiefs at Soldier Field on December 4, 2011 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Scott Boehm/Getty Images)
Scott Boehm/Getty Images
Ryan TerrellContributor IIDecember 7, 2011

Is Lovie Smith an eternal optimist, or is he just in flat-out denial?

When pressed multiple times over the past week, Smith had insisted both Jay Cutler and Matt Forte would return by season's end.

It's a proclamation that's said to be realistic for Forte, whose MCL sprain is called a two-to-four-weeker. For Cutler, his return is up in the air, much like the Bears' playoff chances without him.

They are situations that bare many similarities—both are offensive stars with short-term injuries who are desperately needed back by their team—on the surface, that is.

Looking deeper, Forte's situation could prove dicey for the Bears, their locker room and the organization's reputation among fans and the media.

Smith told reporters this week, confidently, he expects his running back on the field again before Week 17 concludes.

Forte, who's the one with the injured knee, didn't sound so sure of a return.

“I can’t really rush anything. I’m going to wait until everything is healed up before I get back out there,” he told reporters, before continuing, “I’m not saying I’m holding out, but I’m also not saying I’m going to try to go out there tomorrow and try to run.”

Many are well aware of Forte's contract situation heading into the offseason.

Some say Forte should sit out the rest of the season to prevent catastrophic injury to an already weakened knee. There's millions of dollars and a livelihood at stake, they say.

Others insist Forte should put the team first, get as healthy as he can and push a return before the regular season, even at 85 or 90 percent.

No one knows what's really going on in Forte's mind, although he is saying all the right things.

What is for sure, however, is that if Forte does return sooner than later, all eyes will be on his left knee.

And if he goes down, if his knee gives out, the questions will come rumbling–from players, the media and Forte fans.

Did the Bears rush him back? Was he misguided when told the knee was healthy? Did Forte make a selfless but unwise decision?

They are questions the Bears' organization doesn't want to answer on the cusp of the postseason, whether they are preparing for an offseason or a divisional playoff game.

They are questions that would further bruise one of the most storied franchises on the heels of a draft day trade fiasco and public relations blunders over Cutler's own bad knee earlier this year.

Approach this with caution, Bears brass and coaches.

Avoid another offseason of controversy; avoid another black eye, another flub.

If you do, your only worries will be a 6'4" wide receiver, two solid pass-rushers and three new offensive linemen.

That's not much to worry about, is it?

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