INDIANAPOLIS—After compiling the most rushing yards for a Bears rookie in a debut, Matt Forte calmly sat down at his locker, oblivious to the hype surrounding his 123-yard, one-touchdown performance.
"I'm glad we won, but I'm not going to go crazy over it," Forte said after the Bears' surprising 29-13 win over the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday night. "It's the first game. It's a 16-game season."
"The shoulder was a little numb," he admitted. "I just went to the sideline and had to shake it off, get back in there and play."
Forte's fearless debut was contagious. The Bears played like they had nothing to lose and everyone's respect to gain. The defense swarmed up front and hit the Colts in the mouth early, keeping them out of the end zone in the first half. And this was practically the same Peyton Manning-led offense that outscored opponents 236-134 in first halves last season.
The defense kept punching in the second half, with Lance Briggs' 21-yard return of Charles Tillman's forced fumble putting the Bears up 22-13 in the third quarter. It was the second score for the defense, with a first-half safety by Adewale Ogunleye notching two points.
Manning completed 30 of 49 passes for 257 yards and a touchdown but was sacked twice. The Bears outgained the Colts 319-293.
"Just another week," Briggs said, poking fun at people's anxiety over the exhibition games. "It's no longer preseason. This is the week that counts."
A Bears team that appeared listless in the preseason suddenly came to life, and Forte provided the biggest jolt. He set the tone with a 50-yard touchdown run in the first quarter.
The Bears faced third-and-6 from midfield, and the Colts expected a pass play. Quarterback Kyle Orton handed off to Forte, who dipped through the middle as right guard Roberto Garza drove middle linebacker Gary Brackett to the turf. Forte then showed off his elusiveness, putting a move on defensive back Antoine Bethea before outracing Sanders to the end zone.
Forte reached the 100-yard mark on his 14th carry—a 3-yard run with 24 seconds left in the first half. His total helped the Bears to 183 rushing yards on 39 carries, a healthy 4.7 yards per carry.
Forte's strong effort made life easier on Orton, who looked calm from the first snap. Make that the second, because Olin Kreutz mishandled the first, leading to a false start on the center.
That said, the much-maligned offensive line held up well. It gave Orton (13-for-21, 150 yards) ample opportunity to throw and cleared massive holes for Forte. Twice on third down, Orton's protection allowed him to pick up big gains to the tight end, leading to scores.
Orton carried his confidence into the fourth quarter and made another key third-down conversion: a 26-yard pass to Clark on third-and-1, giving the Bears first-and-goal from the 1. Fullback Jason McKie's 1-yard plunge punctuated an impressive offensive effort.
"I know what our offense can be," Forte said. "I had a sense we were going to do well."
The rest of the football world sure didn't.