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By Gus Bode

The bearer of bad news didn’t disappear for long before another wrecking ball elegantly maimed the Chicago Bears’ season.

The Bears’ leading rusher and receiver Matt Forte went down midway through the first quarter with a sprained knee after he took a direct helmet shot, and safety Major Wright left the game with a shoulder injury. Neither player can be easily replaced, and there won’t be a future beyond the regular season if they can’t get patched up well enough to take the field in the near future.

Wright was ranked fifth on the team with 36 tackles and had a team-leading three interceptions and one touchdown, while Forte led the NFL with 1,475 offensive yards and was ranked third with 985 rushing yards on 198 carries.

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It’s not always the top preseason pick that wins the five-month race to the coveted Super Bowl; it’s often the team that maintains health and avoids major injuries, and, the Bears have not been successful in those areas.

While Chicago could have been one of the top teams in the AFC, with possibly the exception of the flawless rival Green Bay Packers, depth issues and the lack of marquee players may have handcuffed their season.

Quarterback Jay Cutler’s broken thumb was the first big blow to the team when he injured it Nov. 20 against the San Diego Chargers. Since then, the Bears have lost two consecutive games and dropped to a 7-5 record.

Before his injury, Cutler established his role as a team leader, however, his good-but-below-average numbers shouldn’t have been enough to cause an immediate panic for fans.

He ranked No. 19 in league quarterbacks with an average of 231.9 passing yards per game, had 13 touchdown passes and seven interceptions in the extremely pass-driven offense throughout the NFL this season.

While it isn’t necessarily his arm that the Bears lost on that Sunday afternoon, it was the presence of a passing threat that he brought to the field each game.

With his absence, defenses were able to revise their game plans to shut down the only other option — the Bears’ strong rushing offense which is primarily made up of Forte, who is no longer an immediate concern.

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Forte is still being evaluated, but head coach Lovie Smith said he expected Forte to be back on the field before the end of the season; nothing is certain.

Prior to Cutler’s season-ending injury, the Bears averaged 26.8 points per game in the first 10 games, and they have now averaged 11.5 points in the previous two. This includes a miniscule three points against Kansas City Chiefs’ defense that has averaged 24 points per game in 2011.

The Chiefs had also lost four consecutive games coming into Soldier Field Sunday, which should have put the Bears in a cool comfort zone on the north side of Chicago.

What’s next for the Bears is uncertain. They have four games remaining, one of which is against the  Packers on Christmas Day.

Chicago has now found itself in a battle to even make the playoffs. The Bears, Lions and Falcons are all 7-5, and it isn’t likely that all three of those teams will be playing Jan. 7.

 

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