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Matt Forte claimed he had no idea what Brian Urlacher said to Mike Silver of Yahoo! Sports over the weekend when the linebacker was critical of the Bears' running game, and said the Bears have lost their identity on offense.

"We've got to do a lot of things,'' Forte said. "We've got to make people miss, we've got to block people, we've got to do a lot of things. It's not one particular thing that is hampering the offense. We're hurting ourselves most of the time.

"Urlacher has his own opinion. If I couldn't make anybody miss, I probably wouldn't be playing pro football.''

Forte. who set a franchise rookie record with 1,238 yards rushing last season, has only 543 yards and three rushing touchdowns through 11 games.

"It's frustrating,'' he said. "But you can't harp on being frustrated because it carries over into other games. Then, you'll be focused on being frustrated instead of being out there and trying to do things right on the field.

"When you don't get rushing opportunities as a running back, you have to try to impact somewhere else.''

"I still feel like we're in the mix. If we can correct a lot of things, a lot of the small things, really they're not small. They're turning into big things that we have to take care of.''

Those were the words of Bears coach Lovie Smith Sunday night after the Bears fell to the Philadelphia Eagles 24-20 at Soldier Field, their fifth loss in the last six games and one that all but ends their postseason hopes. No, the Bears are not mathematically eliminated from anything, but there's no way anyone at Halas Hall can say with any level of confidence that this team can go on a run to finish out the season. Nope. Not the way things are going.

Using Smith's glass half-full approach that the Bears are "in the mix," let's set off to identify the small things that really aren't small any longer as we react to the loss.

1. Jay Cutler has gone from throwing passes to the other team to flat overthrowing his receivers. It was good to see him launch one pass out of the end zone when the play was covered up in the red zone (then again, earlier he tried hitting tight end Greg Olsen who was blanketed by your basic triple coverage) but Cutler missed long all game. He overshot Olsen, Devin Hester and Johnny Knox on throws that would have been sure touchdowns. The Knox pass was most deflating. It came with just less than four minutes remaining in the game, and would have been a go-ahead score. Offensive coordinator Ron Turner made the right call, Knox blew past cornerback Sheldon Brown and there was nothing but clear field ahead of him. Turner said they are throws Cutler has been hitting in practice. He throws a good deep ball. It's what we saw all during training camp. Have things become so bad that the Bears can't hit the open man deep?

2. What did we learn on Kahlil Bell's 72-yard run? Well, for starters it's apparent that Knox is a whole heck of a lot faster. The wide receiver showed great speed in getting downfield to throw a block that created extra yardage. The Bears have another running back who isn't a home run threat, but it was nice to see someone bust one long. What Bell's long run is going to do, though, is send fantasy players running to make a waiver claim and increase the questions for Matt Forte, who had another ho-hum effort, 34 yards on 14 rushes. Here are Forte's last six games:

Running back Garrett Wolfe is expected to miss the remainder of the season with a lacerated kidney.

Wolfe was hospitalized for three nights following the Arizona game on Nov. 8, and while the hope was that he would be able to return before the end of the season, that's not a possibility. Wolfe is expected to make a complete return, though, and general manager Jerry Angelo expressed a desire to see him receive more opportunities last week.

"He's a great kid and it's unfortunate,'' Angelo said. ``I was hoping he would start integrating more into the offense and [offensive coordinator] Ron [Turner] was using him more in practices, and he's done a good job on special teams. I wanted to see him take another step as a runner.''

The Holy Cross and Northern Illinois product had 22 carries for 120 yards this season, ranking him second behind Matt Forte. He caught two passes for 12 yards, but his most prominent role was on special teams. He's tied for third with nine tackles, eight of which are solos.

Offensive line coach Harry Hiestand made it clear when Josh Beekman was inserted into the starting lineup at left guard at the start of the month that the Bears were not writing off the man he replaced, Frank Omiyale.

Sure enough, Omiyale resurfaced in Thursday's loss at San Francisco, replacing Beekman at the two-minute warning while the Bears mounted a comeback effort that fell 12 yards short. Beekman struggled with 49ers defensive end Justin Smith at the beginning of the drive, and the switch was made.

"[Smith] was a big, strong guy. I was coming out battling him,'' Beekman said. "They just wanted to get Frank in there, he's a little bigger, against the guy. It almost worked.''

Beekman said as far as he knows he remains with the first team, and offensive coordinator Ron Turner should be able to address that issue later today. What the move back to Omiyale at the key point in the game does, though, is highlight the reason why the Bears set out in the offseason to find a bigger, more physical replacement for Beekman. That's not to say Beekman didn't do some things well in the game. About the only thing the offense did with any consistency was run some screen passes to running back Matt Forte to the left side, and Beekman and center Olin Kreutz did a nice job getting out on those plays and blocking.

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The bus is either in the junk yard to be sold for parts, or it's on the side of the Interstate somewhere, stripped down by a band of thieves.

The bus I am writing about is the one that Lovie Smith used to announce the Bears got off of running.

Thankfully, we haven't heard that refrain of late because, you know what, it's not accurate anymore. The Bears don't get off the bus running. They get off the bus throwing the ball. The Bears rank 30th in the league rushing with only Arizona (which has a promising rookie in Beanie Wells) and San Diego (which has a future Hall of Famer in LaDainian Tomlinson) below them. The difference is those teams have passing attacks that are winning for them.

But Smith, for some reason, still insists the Bears are a running team. Matt Forte has shown flashes at times this season, but the combination of Forte and the offensive line simply have not gotten the job done. Smith was asked about Jay Cutler's career-high five interceptions on Thursday at San Francisco and whether or not the lack of a running game contributed to the flurry of turnovers. Hey, you could say they get off the bus throwing interceptions, often in the red zone.

"Jay's our quarterback,'' Smith responded. "A lot goes into when you turn the ball over with an interception. Of course the quarterback will get blamed for it all. All of those weren't his fault. The running game will help that a lot. We need to get our running game going. We've said that all along. When you're a running team, the run will set up the pass. That hasn't happened for us yet but we'll stay committed to it. We'll try to run this week. Hopefully, some of that can change.''

Maybe that is one of the fundamental problems for the Bears this season. They don't have an identity. Has Smith miscast them as a running team? Are his expectations something that is unrealistic? Should the Bears look at themselves as a passing team and work to find ways to improve in that area? Just look at the numbers. The Bears have run the ball 201 times. They've passed it 340 times, putting them on pace for 604 attempts. That would be the second-most in franchise history behind only the razzle dazzle Gary Crowton brought to the offense in 1999.

ATLANTA--How much you want to bet Jay Cutler is willing to wait a long while before his next road Sunday night game?

That's six interceptions for the quarterback on Sunday nighters away from Soldier Field, and the Bears have three more prime time games coming up--Nov. 12 at San Francisco, Nov. 22 vs. Philadelphia and Dec. 28 vs. Minnesota.

But blaming another inconsistent effort on the kickoff time and the venue is ignoring some of the issues the Bears can or should do something about. Atlanta is a solid football team, one that plays well in the Georgia Dome, but this wasn't the class of the NFC the Bears just ran into in their 21-14 loss. The Falcons entered ranked 23rd vs. the run and they stopped the Bears cold. They didn't generate much of a pass rush without blitzing all out, and the Bears didn't hit them with the dagger. Atlanta's secondary has issues and Cutler threw for 300 yards in exposing some of them, but it was the giveaways he had that cost the Bears 10 points--three in the way of a Robbie Gould field goal, and seven in the touchdown the Falcons turned the second pick into in the second quarter.

So, I'll roll through some rapid reaction to this game before packing my bags here:

1. Third-and-one. Offensive coordinator Ron Turner had to be feeling pretty good about things. The Bears entered the game a miserable 2-for-5 on third-and-one conversions through their first four games. It was something they struggled with last season, and the addition of Cutler with a run/pass element was supposed to make things better. The offense encountered two third-and-ones in the first quarter and picked them both up with Cutler throwing to Greg Olsen for a five-yard gain, and then sneaking for two yards. They came out in the third quarter and Cutler picked up another with a sneak and then Matt Forte found a hole by left guard Frank Omiyale for a five-yard game to quickly make the offense 4-for-4 on third-and-one.

Once the Bears got to the goalline, that was a different story. Forte's dive on second-and-goal from the one wasn't close to the end zone and linebacker Curtis Lofton knocked the ball out. Somehow, Forte recovered the ball. Turner went to him with a run left on the very next play, also from the one, and he was stripped by defensive tackle Jonathan Babineuax. It's the hard yard to pick up and when the Bears have had success, they've gone play fake. It's what Cutler tried on first-and-goal from the one and the Falcons had everything covered up. They haven't been able to impose their will on a defense, and Forte's upright running style makes it difficult for him to get that tough yard at times. Fumbling isn't an issue with him. He did it only once last season. But the combination of the line and Forte's lack of explosion has got the run game bottled up right now. It's a combination of both. It should be noted when facing fourth-and-one at the Falcons' five their in the waning seconds, they were going to run another sneak to Cutler before left tackle Orlando Pace lunged forward in a run-blocking effort for a false start. There's no success with the Power-O like they used to have. Turner is going to have to adapt, and do so quickly.

2. While we're mentioning Cutler, those interceptions were game killers for them here. In a lot of ways this was Green Bay all over again. Babineuax was bearing down on him when he tried to hit Devin Hester on a crossing route on the first pick. Never should have thrown the third-down pass. If he tosses it away, Gould drills a 30-yard field goal. It was a momentum killer at the end of a 13-play drive that was taking the antsy crowd slowly out of the game. The second pick was bad any way you slice it. Olsen was covered pretty well and the ball was badly overthrown. Another pick he should have never attempted.

3. The defense accomplished the No. 1 task of stopping running back Michael Turner. He had only 30 yards rushing on 13 carries (2.3 per attempt), and when you look at the numbers it's not like Matt Ryan picked them apart--19-for-33 for 185 yards. But Ryan made the big plays when he needed them, like the 16-yard completion to tight end Tony Gonzalez on third-and-six from the Bears' 37 in the fourth quarter. That set up the go-ahead score.

No question has been asked more since the Bears' 48-24 victory over Detroit this afternoon than whether or not Johnny Knox crossed the goalline on his 102-yard kickoff return before flipping the ball to the ground.

I wondered the same thing aloud to Bob LeGere of the Daily Herald when the play happened, and I've watched the play over and over now. The first thing that should be mentioned is it was a terrific call by special teams coordinator Dave Toub. He said the Lions had been overplaying returns to the left in the first half, so when the Bears opened the third quarter they called a naked--the blocks would start out left and then Knox would cut it back right. There was nothing but daylight, and some key blocks from Corey Graham, Jamar Williams and Josh Bullocks, active for the first time this season, helped spring Knox.

I can't tell you with certainty whether the ball reached the plane of the goalline or not before he released it. Unless you have a better camera angle than what was provided on television, you won't be able to tell either. Frozen near the goalline, it looked darn close. Knox flipped the ball backward with his right hand. It landed a yard into the end zone. That right there makes me believe he probably did reach the goalline. He didn't flip the ball forward. Obviously, no official was in position to make a definitive call on whether he pulled a DeSean Jackson or not. The Lions were smart not to challenge the play because the television replays showed nothing in the way of indisputable evidence. Moreover, a successful challenge would have meant the Bears had the ball first-and-goal at the one.

It's fair to say Knox will get a short chat from Toub. Other than that, it's a fun sidenote to the second-longest kickoff return in franchise history. It marked the fourth consecutive year the Bears have had a kickoff run back for a touchdown, and it's their sixth since 2005.

Now to some game observations. It was a good win for the Bears to get to 3-1 entering the bye week, but I think the way the Lions really outplayed them, especially in the first half, raised some valid questions. Let's go through five positives and five things to work on:

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The 2009 NFL schedule was released April 14, 12 days after the Bears completed their trade with the Denver Broncos to acquire quarterback Jay Cutler, a move that sparked tremendous expectations for the team.

The season opener at Green Bay followed by the home opener this afternoon with the Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers looked like a formidable start for all those not sipping the Kool Aid. Now, after a rough loss at Lambeau Field that has the Bears making four changes in the starting lineup on defense, two necessitated by injuries, the Bears know how important it is to avoid an 0-2 start. A loss to the Steelers could put the Bears two behind the Packers and fellow NFC North foe Minnesota. Green Bay hosts Cincinnati (0-1) and the Vikings, which also won their opener, are at Detroit (0-1) where the Lions will try to avoid their 19th straight defeat.

The statistics are daunting as well. Three of the 10 teams that started 0-2 last season--Miami, Minnesota and San Diego--reached the playoffs. But that kind of success is rare. Since 2000, nine of the 78 teams that started 0-2 reached the postseason (11.5 percent). Since the league went to a 16-game schedule in 1978, 30 teams that have started 0-2 made the playoffs, including three Super Bowl winners (1993 Dallas, 2001 New England and 2007 New York Giants). That's one a year. Finally, the Bears, the cornerstone franchise of the league, have never made the playoffs after an 0-2 start. Add in the fact that next week's game is at Seattle where the Bears are 1-4 all-time with their last win coming in 1976, the first year of existence for the expansion Seahawks, and this game takes on an added significance if you believe in looking ahead.

Enough with the numbers. Let's get to it. What are keys for the Bears to be successful?

1. The Steelers have been getting some heat for some time. Why don't they run the football more? What happened to the fullback? The fact is, Bruce Arians runs a passing offense that suits his personnel. But after failing to generate any kind of ground game in the opener, the Steelers are going to try to establish success early vs. the Bears. They flat ran over them the last time the teams played in 2005. That was a different offensive line with a different back running behind it in Jerome Bettis. This line outweighs the Bears' front by an average of 47 pounds. The Bears have to stop the run because if Pittsburgh is two-dimensional, Ben Roethlisberger will be very difficult to stop.

2. Be like Hunter. It will be interesting to see if there are subtle differences in the scheme with Hunter Hillenmeyer replacing Brian Urlacher at middle linebacker. He knows he can't try to be like Brian. He's not that player. I detailed here for the National Football Post how the change could affect the Bears when it comes to the blitz. The good news for the Bears is Hillenmeyer is probably a better middle linebacker than he is a strong-side linebacker, the position he started at for most of four seasons. The blitz will be key because the Steelers use a spread attack that forces the linemen to play in space. There will be opportunities to pressure Roethlisberger.

3. Safety dance. Lovie Smith was itching to get Danieal Manning in at free safety before training camp started. A pulled hamstring delayed that move. Now, Manning is in position. It's the 18th change in starting free safeties since Smith came on board in 2004. There have been 15 changes at strong safety. Hey, the Bears finally found a position to switch more often than starting quarterback. There is a chart of all the turnover during Smith's era here. Manning needs to curtail some of the glaring assignment errors that have marked his time at the position in the past. The wide open touchdown by Andre Johnson in the season finale last year at Houston comes to mind. The issue here is the team didn't use him at safety once during the offseason. He missed significant time in training camp with a pulled hamstring and he'll be going off classroom instruction more than anything else.

Either I missed the story online that is in Saturday's print edition, or somewhere it got lost in the shuffle on the World Wide Web. So here is the unedited version of the story that is or was to be printed in Saturday's paper:

The Bears are going to have to evaluate one of the first goals of their offseason after discovering Friday running back Kevin Jones will miss the season with a torn ligament in his left ankle.

Jones, who they were featuring Thursday against Cleveland at Soldier Field to get a little extra work in before the regular season begins, jumped into the air along the sideline and when he landed on his left foot it buckled. An MRI revealed the damage and he will undergo surgery next week. Rehabilitation is expected to take 10 months, but Jones proved he was a quick healer when he came back from a torn ACL in his right knee last summer.

While he was a luxury addition last year, Jones was headed for an expanded role as Matt Forte's primary backup when he returned with a $3.5 million, two-year contract. Adrian Peterson might have been on the bubble to make the club and now he's a lock for the 53-man roster when it's officially announced later today along with Garrett Wolfe. The Bears could seek a free agent but word around the league was they are content to roll with three backs for now.

``We were anxious to give him a lot of carries and see where he was,'' offensive coordinator Ron Turner said. ``I feel bad for him. He's had a good training camp and I know he was looking forward to getting a chance to make some plays and was excited about playing. You hate to see it.''

The question is whether or not Forte will get off the field. He rarely did last season, participating in 84 percent of the club's offensive snaps, the highest figure for a back in the league. Forte was third in the NFL with 316 rushes, and when you add in 63 receptions, he had 379 touches, most for the Bears since Walter Payton had 434 in 1984. Turner talked on multiple occasions last season about working in others, and the danger now is it will be all talk again. Forte was dogged by a toe injury late last season and the workload wore on him a little bit on his way to setting a rookie franchise record with 1,238 yards.

``It's tough,'' Forte said. ``A.P. has been playing, this is his eighth year, he knows what he's doing too. We've got Garrett too. We don't have any issues with that. We're real confident with both of them getting in the game.''

Running back Kevin Jones suffered a torn ligament in his left ankle in the first quarter of Thursday night's game at Soldier Field.

Jones has been informed that he will require surgery to repair the injury, and the rehabilitation process will take up to 10 months.

This means the veteran will be out for this season.

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Blue.

It's the color that every personnel man in the National Football League wants to see.

Blues are what define winning organizations. They are the difference between winning and losing on Sundays. Blues shines brightest in the biggest moments. Blues command the biggest paychecks. Blues are what the game is all about.

Mike Lombardi
at the National Football Post spent the last few weeks breaking down what blue players are on every roster in the league. First, let's let him describe what a blue is. He should know. He spent more than two decades in front offices in Oakland, Cleveland. San Francisco, Philadelphia and Denver.

"Player has abilities that can create mismatches vs. most opponents in the league. Is a featured player on the team and has impact on the outcome of the game. Not one player can take him out of the game. Each week he has a consistent level of performance. Plays at a championship level performance. He rates in the top ten at his position in the league."

Here is how he assessed the Bears:

Blue chip

Jay Cutler: He's a blue player, now he needs to be a blue winner.
Matt Forte: Does it all--run, catch, protect--very well.
Devin Hester: Not sure he's a blue player, but he's a blue playmaker.

Almost, but not blue

Brian Urlacher: If blockers get to him, he's blocked, so he's not a blue.
Lance Briggs: No one on the Bears' defense is a blue.

It's an interesting take. Certainly Urlacher has not been on top of his game the last two seasons, and Lombardi isn't the only trained eye to make that assessment. Briggs fails to make the cut also and he's been to four consecutive Pro Bowls. I took a look at the outside linebackers who were included on the list and I think it's easy to see what Lombardi was seeking. He wanted outside linebackers who get to the quarterback.

Here is his list of blues at the position:

Terrell Suggs, Baltimore
Joey Porter, Miami
LaMarr Woodley, Pittsburgh
James Harrison, Pittsburgh
Shawne Merriman, San Diego
Aaron Kampman, Green Bay

BOURBONNAIS, Ill.--The Bears don't have any major concerns when it comes to the hamstring muscle that Matt Forte pulled back in June during the third week of OTA's, but they're also being cautious.

That is why the running back was held out of inside run drills during practice Saturday night. He's been getting a lighter load as they work to bring him along slowly and smartly, and that's given the slimmed down Kevin Jones and Garrett Wolfe some more opportunities, as well as Adrian Peterson. Jones busted off a great move in the open field Saturday.

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