LAKE FOREST, Ill. – Jay Cutler can't remember the last time he saw Matt Forte winded in a game.
The Chicago Bears' running back runs hills in the offseason and spends a good chunk of his time on the treadmill, making sure he's ready once the season approaches.
"Whenever we do take him out he seems to be sitting on the sideline just waiting to come back in," Cutler, the Bears' quarterback, said. "You never see him go over and look for oxygen or sit down and he's completely gassed."
Clearly, the two-time Pro Bowl running back has plenty left in the tank. If anyone was wondering, Forte made that clear last week against the Green Bay Packers.
Forte ran for 122 yards after being held to just 136 through the first three games, and the Bears racked up 235 in all for their highest rushing total in 26 years.
The problem was the Bears had trouble finishing drives, and they still managed to lose by 21 points to their NFC North rivals, despite all they gained on the ground. Still, the fact that the running game got going was a positive, even if Green Bay basically dared them.
Forte took advantage, averaging 5.3 yards on his 23 carries. So did Ka'Deem Carey, who ran for 72 yards. And, there might be more opportunities for Chicago this week considering Carolina ranks just 27th against the run.
"I think to be motivated by stats is a little bit selfish, and I'm not a selfish player," Forte said. "I want everybody on the offense to succeed. What motivates me is a lot of things."
He said he's motivated simply by the opportunity that he has. He wants to make it last. But he also wants to be seen as more than just a good running back.
He wants to be remembered for his efforts in the community and the work he put in on the field.
"I think I'm pretty important to the offense, just as far as what we do as an offense, whether it's running the ball and being involved in the passing game and blocking," Forte said. "We have a lot of important parts on our offense. It's not just me."
Forte is in his seventh season, a time when running backs tend to decline. But he's not showing any obvious signs of decline.
One of the league's most versatile running backs, he ran for a career-high 1,339 yards last season. But the opportunities weren't there in the first three games this year.
A big reason for that was who the Bears were playing — Buffalo, San Francisco and the New York Jets.
Those three teams boast the league's top three run defenses at the moment, with the Jets allowing a league-low 63.2 yards per game.
Given that, it was not exactly shocking that the Bears decided to rely more on Cutler's arm than Forte's legs. They felt they had to throw the ball to win.
Forte carried 17 times for 82 yards in the opener at home against Buffalo to go along with 87 yards receiving. The Bears lost that game but pulled off prime-time victories on each coast the next two weeks, beating San Francisco and New York.
There weren't many handoffs in either game, with Forte carrying 12 times for 21 yards against the 49ers, and 13 times for 33 yards against the Jets.
It was not just who the Bears were playing. The execution in the run game was off. But against Green Bay, the openings were there.
"After watching the film, we got to see the issues with our running game weren't necessarily what other teams were doing to us," said left guard Matt Slauson, who hopes to return after missing three games with an ankle injury. "It was us not being perfect with our technique, not being perfect with our steps. The Green Bay game, the guys did a tremendous job. They put it all together for Matt."