A million-dollar smile never left Matt Forte's face after he entered the Bears' interview room and hopped, running-back style, onto the platform following the best rushing performance of his NFL career.
Question is, how long before the fourth-year pro gets his millions to complement his smile.
In another "pay-him-the-money" effort, which helped the Bears run past Carolina 34-29 at Soldier Field on Sunday, Forte rushed for a career-high 205 yards on 25 carries.
Both statistics were equally alarming considering, as a team, the Bears had 24 rushes for 73 yards in their previous two games, against New Orleans and Green Bay.
"It reminded me of senior year at Tulane, every weekend getting 200 yards," said Forte, who in his final year of college football (2007) rushed 361 times for 2,127 yards. "All the credit goes to the offensive line. The holes were huge out there."
Credit to the offensive line?
Considering the heavy criticsm the O-line has taken all season, that might be more alarming than Forte's totals, which also included a rushing touchdown and a team-best 4 receptions for 23 yards.
The Bears rushed 31 times.
They gained 224 yards.
"Coach (Mike) Tice and coach (Mike) Martz came up with a great run plan," Bears offensive guard Chris Williams said. "They knew what they wanted to do coming in. They do a great job with us. Every time they counter us, we come right back with something."
"It's always a good thing when you have 200 or something yards on the ground," Lance Louis, who played tackle, guard and even some tight end, said with a smile. "That always makes an O-lineman feel good, especially with the win,"
The Bears' first 9 offensive plays -- not counting Robbie Gould's 20-yard field with 4:19 left in the first quarter -- were running plays.
"We went into this week with a good game plan," Louis said. "We came out running and it was looking good so we stuck with it. Those (coaches) did a great job putting that plan together, and Matt did a great job running the ball."
Forte, who's in the final year of the contract he received as a rookie, arrived at training camp requesting a contract extension. He refused to hold out, with the assurance from general manager Jerry Angelo that his contract would be a priority. But no progress has been made between the Bears and Forte's agent, Adisa Bakari, and Angelo has said talk of a contract extension will be tabled until the season is over.
Meanwhile, through four weeks, Forte leads the Bears with 324 rushing yards (5.4 average) and 26 catches. No other Bear has more than 12 receptions.
Forte, who hasn't missed a regular-season game (52 games, 52 starts) in his NFL career, is on pace for 104 catches this season.
And, oh, the 205-yard effort against Carolina?
Only two guys named Payton and Sayers have done that in franchise history.
Walter Payton rushed for 275 yards against Minnesota in 1977 and 205 against Green Bay that same season. Gale Sayers had 205 rushing yards against Green Bay in 1968.
Forte picked up 5 yards on the Bears' first play from scrimmage, then used his speed and cutback ability to bust off a season-long 46-yard gain. Gould's field goal capped the drive, which featured 8 rushes in as many plays.
"Just getting to the second level," Forte said of the difference between Sunday and the previous two Sundays, when the Bears abandoned the run early.
"Once the offensive line takes care of the defensive line, I can get into the open field. Receivers make big blocks downfield, and if you make someone miss, there's a lot of yardage out there to get."
Forte's final carry, a 40-yard gain to the Carolina 3 with less than two minutes left and the Bears up 27-23, set up Marion Barber's first TD as a Bear.
Barber, who missed the first three weeks with a calf injury, celebrated with some awkward acrobatics after plowing into the end zone.
Barber had 17 rushing yards on 5 carries.
"Marion was finally healthy, was able to come out and contribute, and he did a great job out there, as well," Forte said. "Except for that back flip. ... That was a nice face-plant for him."
Forte's quip drew laughs -- and an even broader smile from the Bears' (pay-him-the) money running back.