Offensive line keys Bears' resurgence
Hours after Chicago completed a gutsy win at Philadelphia, running back Matt Forte and cornerback Charles Tillman started studying again. Only this time the subject was finance - part of a community service program at a local high school on Tuesday morning.
And yes, that big 30-24 victory against the Eagles made their quick turnaround a whole lot easier.
''It was a great game,'' Forte said. ''We came back from being down and it shows how resilient our team is.''
The Bears (5-3) used a fast start and a strong finish to earn their third consecutive win and move within one game of the idle Lions for second in the NFC North behind the unbeaten Packers.
Chicago hosts Detroit on Sunday after the Lions cruised past the Bears 24-13 in their first matchup of the season on Oct. 10.
The biggest key to Chicago's resurgence has been the play of its refurbished offensive line.
Longtime center Olin Kreutz decided to sign with New Orleans in August after contract negotiations with Chicago turned sour, and the Bears' shuffled line struggled at the beginning of the season.
Jay Cutler was sacked 14 times and the Bears managed just 161 yards rushing on 51 carries during a 1-2 start.
But the linemen eventually settled into their new roles and started clearing out wide running lanes for Forte. Cutler got some time to throw, and the Bears started rolling again one season after they won the division and advanced to the NFC championship game.
''They're really coming together,'' Forte said. ''They're getting used to being in the same positions that they're in. A lot of injuries got healed up, and they're playing real well.''
Forte ran for 133 yards at Philadelphia and is averaging 137.2 yards on the ground in the past five games. Cutler wasn't sacked for the first time since a 10-6 loss at San Francisco on Nov. 12, 2009, snapping a 30-game streak.
''When that front five is comfortable and they're picking things up, and the pocket's clean, it's going to be hard to stop us,'' Cutler said Monday night.
The Bears rewarded one of those linemen on Tuesday, announcing a two-year contract extension with center Roberto Garza that runs through 2013.
Primarily a guard in his first 10 seasons, Garza moved inside when Kreutz departed and helped stabilize the line after the rough start.
Forte, who ranks second in the NFL with 805 yards rushing, has been vocal about his desire for a new deal, but said he is happy for Garza.
''Of course. I'm happy anytime one of my teammates signs a deal, especially an extension,'' he said. ''He's a good player for us. He's been doing great at center.''
Forte will make $600,000 this season in the last year of the rookie contract he signed after he was drafted by the Bears in the second round of the 2008 draft out of Tulane, where he majored in finance.
The 6-foot-2, 218-pound Forte was transported back to some of his college classes Tuesday when he led his team of high schoolers to an 8-7 victory over Tillman's squad in Financial Football, a computer game developed by Visa Inc. that teaches kids important financial terms.
Forte and Tillman talked to the students before the game about managing their money responsibly, and Forte later acknowledged the irony in the address about financial freedom given his push for a new contract.
''You could say that if you want to, but it kind of just happened that way,'' he said.
Jay Cohen can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/jcohenap