CHICAGO (AP) Jeremy Langford had been planning this for a long time, and he sure took advantage of his opportunity.
The rookie running back came through with star Matt Forte sidelined to help the Chicago Bears beat the San Diego Chargers 22-19 on Monday night.
''All my life,'' Langford said, when asked how long he had waited for this. ''Especially on `Monday Night Football' like this. I'm truly blessed to be in this situation.''
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The Bears (3-5) are breathing a little easier, too, after squeezing out a narrow win over a struggling team.
It was the fifth straight game decided by three points or fewer. And after dropping two in a row, they pulled this one out thanks to a spectacular late touchdown grab by Zach Miller and a strong series by the defense.
A huge performance by Alshon Jeffery, who had 151 yards on 10 catches, did not hurt, either.
Langford carried the load with Forte recovering from a right knee injury even though he did not start. He ran for 72 yards and a fourth-quarter touchdown. He added 70 yards receiving and displayed some of the versatility that makes Forte one of the league's most well-rounded running backs.
''Really it was kind of what we expected, and we expected a lot,'' coach John Fox said. ''Both he and Ka'Deem (Carey) and even Antone (Smith) got in there and busted a run for pretty good distance. They're pretty good players and it means a lot to them and I'm glad that they're on our side.''
It was a good audition for a fourth-round draft pick out of Michigan State and maybe glimpse at the future.
After all, Forte has an expiring contract. And with his 30th birthday coming up, he is approaching an age when running backs tend to decline.
General manager Ryan Pace and Fox are trying to figure out who they want to keep in their first season as they try to lead the rebuilding Bears back to contention.
If nothing else, they're looking a team that is now showing some fight if not the talent to contend. That's a big change after the Bears were overmatched by Green Bay, Arizona and Seattle in the first three games.
Since then, it's been nothing but tight finishes. And on Monday night, the Bears came out on top.
''We've been there before but we just didn't make a couple of plays,'' Jeffery said. ''Tonight we believed in ourselves and believed in each other that we could do it.''
Cutler shook off a shaky first half in which he had an interception returned for a touchdown to lead two fourth-quarter scoring drives. The first ended with a 1-yard run by Langford. The second one was highlight quality.
Cutler kept his cool with the pocket collapsing. And a leaping Miller hauled in a pass with one hand in the closing minutes to put Chicago on top.
The defense then stopped the Chargers, with Lamarr Houston sacking Philip Rivers twice after San Diego advanced past midfield with two minutes left.
As for Cutler, he showed his ability to rally his team once again. The strong-armed quarterback with a penchant for turnovers led the Bears on a late scoring drive for the fifth straight game.
But don't overlook Langford's play. He had a costly drop against Minnesota the previous week. But against the Chargers, he had a leaping 31-yard grab.
''That was my whole point, to make up for that play last game,'' Langford said. ''You want to forget about those plays, but when the coaches are trusting you and Cutler is trusting you, you have to go out there and make that play.''
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