The Chicago Bears finally found room to run and a team they could beat. It helps when St. Louis is the opponent.
While Jay Cutler flashed some of his Pro Bowl form before fading, Matt Forte looked more like the running back who set the franchise's rookie rushing record last season while leading the Bears to a 17-9 victory over the lowly Rams on Sunday.
Cutler threw for 143 yards and a touchdown without an interception, Forte ran for 91 after struggling early on and the Bears got a much-needed win after dropping four straight and six of seven.
Considering the Bears entered the game with the league's worst running game, Forte wasn't in the best frame of mind. He took out some of his frustrations on the Rams.
"I can't help but take it personally," he said. "Sometimes it gets troubling or frustrating, but you have to look past that and try to make plays out there and do things each week without focusing on what the bad things are."
Cutler has taken plenty of shots lately, too, but the way he was playing early on, this looked as if it would be an easy afternoon for the Bears.
Cutler was 4 for 7 for 131 yards in the first quarter as the Bears built a 10-0 lead. After that? Chicago went to the run, St. Louis rallied and Bears receiver Devin Hester left the game with a calf injury.
The Bears (5-7) gave up 112 yards rushing to Steven Jackson but kept the Rams (1-11) out of the end zone for the fourth time this season even though Pro Bowl linebacker Lance Briggs missed the game with a sprained left knee. They did just enough after allowing 537 yards the previous week in a 36-10 loss at Minnesota, with a late interception by Hunter Hillenmeyer _ the second of his career _ helping preserve the win.
No matter how uninspired it was, the Bears needed this.
Mired in one of their worst slumps in years, they're staring at their third straight postseason miss since the 2006 team's run to the Super Bowl. Coach Lovie Smith and general manager Jerry Angelo have come under heavy criticism along with Cutler, whose arrival sparked a surge of optimism.
Everything fell apart following a 3-1 start. Things were particularly tense after last week's game, when the Vikings rolled up the most yards by a Bears opponent in 27 years, but they had better luck against one of the league's worst teams.
"I don't want us to get used to losing, that's the most important thing right now," Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo said, even though they've done little else. "I want us to be disappointed, not discouraged."
On Sunday, Jackson was as effective as usual for the Rams even though it took a "lot of prayer" and "guttiness" to get on the field after leaving last week's game against Seattle because of back spasms.
The problem was he had little help.
The Rams were 2 of 14 on third-down conversions, and Kyle Boller threw for just 113 yards and got sacked three times.
Cutler, the league leader with 20 interceptions, was just 8 for 17 but kept the ball out of the opposition's hands after getting picked off 15 times in the previous seven games. His 3-yard TD strike to Earl Bennett on third down with 1:23 left in the third made it 17-6, but Cutler did most of his damage in the opening quarter, connecting with Hester and Bennett for big gains.
He hit Hester with a 48-yard pass that set up a 1-yard touchdown run by Forte and connected with Bennett on a season-long 71-yarder that led to a field goal by Robbie Gould, but things got tense for the Bears after that.
"We haven't really gotten to some of the deeper stuff as of late either so to see Devin and the others catch and go up the field was nice," said Cutler, who "dinged" his throwing hand in the first half but insisted he's fine.
NOTES: Bears LT Orlando Pace was inactive after injuring his groin and was not available to play against his former team, so Chris Williams moved from the right side to his more natural position. Kevin Shaffer started at right tackle. ... With Briggs out, Jamar Williams started at weakside linebacker. ... Rams S Oshiomogho Atogwe hurt his shoulder and will have an MRI.
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