AL HAMNIK: Forte, Hester the center of latest Bears' mystery

2012-10-29T16:45:00Z 2012-11-14T18:51:03Z AL HAMNIK: Forte, Hester the center of latest Bears' mysteryAl Hamnik Times Columnist nwitimes.com
October 29, 2012 4:45 pm  • 

CHICAGO | There are two stories taking shape this Bears season that won't cause coach Lovie Smith to lose any sleep, though he may keep one eye open.

What's the deal with running back Matt Forte and return "specialist" Devin Hester? One is on fire but repeatedly overlooked it seems, while the other is slumping worse than those Detroit Tigers.

Forte, first.

The Bears ran the football only 19 times, 10 the first half, in Sunday's 23-22 comeback win over Carolina.

Forte started off like a gunshot: eight carries, 61 yards and one touchdown by halftime. The second half, you had to look hard to find him: seven carries, nine yards.

With Michael Bush punching it in from short yardage and Forte doing all the grunt work in open field, Forte could only shrug it off, saying he's always been an afterthought in red zone situations.

M-m-m-m.

Yes, the Bears were trailing 13-7 at the half against Carolina, but quarterback Jay Cutler was a sorry sight for 3 1/2 quarters, so why not keep pounding the rock against the league's 21st-ranked defense?

"It wasn't pretty. It was ugly, but you take those any day over a loss," Forte said. "Basically, as an offense, we've got to help out the defense. We've got to put more points on the board."

As for his "quiet" second half, Forte shrugged again.

"Yeah, we started throwing the ball a little bit but that's no reason for our breakdowns," he said. "When we're throwing the ball, we got to execute, catch the ball, make the throws, got to block 'em up front.

"There's no excuses for that."

Forte insists his high ankle sprain is fully healed and is running like a rookie, averaging 4.6 yards a tote. Bush has 200 fewer yards but a 3-2 advantage in TDs.

Many figure that with a new contract, Forte should be grateful and quiet. But you wonder just how much it gnaws at him, not being THE guy.

Next up, Hester.

All this talk about being the game's greatest return man ever and a can't-miss Hall of Famer is less frequent now because Devin Hester has gone from "Beast" to "Bambi."

Sunday, he was invisible with two punt returns for 11 yards. You could do better carrying a bowling ball.

Hester didn't return a kickoff, of which the Bears had seven for a 6.3 average.

A few games back, Hester told us he needed to be more aggressive on returns; had to quit running east-west and more north-south.

He hasn't done either.

Hester insists wide receiver duties haven't interfered with his kick return duties. He's adamant about that.

In the 13-7 win over Detroit on Monday Night Football, Hester signaled a fair catch on a punt he fielded at the Lions 47-yard line.

Special teams coach Dave Toub was spitting razor blades, he was so angry, saying Hester had a sure sideline touchdown if he had just taken off.

Hester hasn't had a return touchdown since Nov. 13 of last season when he took a punt 82 yards against Detroit.

He is ranked in the high teens among punt and kickoff return leaders, quite a drop for the man whose 17 career kick-return touchdowns are an NFL record.

"I know Devin, lately, hasn't had a lot of big returns for touchdowns but it's just a matter of time," Lovie Smith said.

Hopefully, soon. Ever try sleeping with one eye open?

This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at al.hamnik@nwi.com.

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