- Associated Press - Sunday, January 3, 2016

CHICAGO (AP) - Matt Forte took a few extra moments to look around Soldier Field. The veteran running back could have a completely different view next season.

Forte turned a swing pass into a 23-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter, but Jay Cutler threw three interceptions and the Chicago Bears lost 24-20 to the Detroit Lions on Sunday. Forte had 17 carries for 76 yards and three receptions for 34 more yards in possibly his final game with the only NFL team he has ever known.

“I’d like to stay here,” he said, “but I don’t have any control over that right now. When free agency hits, we’ll obviously cross that bridge when it gets here.”

Forte was drafted by Chicago out of Tulane in the second round in 2008 and signed a four-year contract extension in July 2012. He rushed for 898 yards and four touchdowns, and caught 44 balls for 389 yards and three more scores in 13 games this season, but he also turned 30 last month. The Bears (6-10) could decide to go in a different direction.

“I just know that I appreciate him and have great respect for him and everything he gave us this season,” coach John Fox said. “You know, who knows where we will all be tomorrow?”

Forte, a two-time Pro Bowler who ranks among the franchise leaders in several offensive categories, greeted some fans as he left the field after the Bears’ seventh loss in eight home games this season.

“If this was, you know, the last game or whatever that I play in Soldier Field, I didn’t want to leave without telling the fans I appreciate them and stuff in person,” Forte said, “and so I was able to do some of that stuff at the end on the way into the tunnel.”

It also might have been the last game with Chicago for offensive coordinator Adam Gase, who could be one of the top candidates for several head coaching jobs. Gase is widely credited for his work with Cutler, who threw 21 touchdown passes and 11 interceptions after he had 18 picks a year ago.

Gase, 37, joined the Bears last offseason when Fox took over in Chicago.

“He has done a heck of a job. I couldn’t be more happy for him,” Cutler said. “He’s going to go through the process and we’ll see what happens.”

Detroit (7-9) closed with three straight wins and six victories in eight games after an awful start, making a strong argument for another year for coach Jim Caldwell. Matthew Stafford threw for 298 yards and three touchdowns and had 17 TD passes against only one interception in the final six games.

After Forte’s touchdown tied it at 17, Stafford marched the Lions to a 1-yard touchdown catch by Eric Ebron with 8:46 left. He also found Tim Wright for a 9-yard TD pass in the first quarter and threw a beautiful ball to a lunging Calvin Johnson for a 36-yard score with 1:07 to go in the third.

“We weren’t perfect on offense, but we made some big plays and scored a bunch of touchdowns,” Stafford said.

Johnson finished with 10 receptions for 137 yards, and Detroit’s Matt Prater kicked a 59-yard field goal - the longest ever at Soldier Field, according to STATS. The 30-year-old Johnson also heads into an uncertain offseason, with a big cap hit next year that could force the Lions to cut him loose.

“It’s not in my control,” Johnson said. “Only things that I do are in my control. Whatever decisions they make is up to them. I’m just going to enjoy this down time and go from there.”

The last-place Bears lost for the fourth time in five games despite showing progress in their first season under Fox and general manager Ryan Pace. Five of Chicago’s 10 losses were by four points or less.

Cutler was 17 for 23 for 245 yards with two touchdown passes, including a 34-yarder to Josh Bellamy in the third quarter. Robbie Gould kicked two field goals to give him 33 on the year, breaking his franchise record.

“We had a lot of close games, a lot of very tight contests,” offensive tackle Kyle Long said. “I think with this regime they’ll be able to add more pieces into place that are more beneficial to this team and be able to close that gap and flip those (losses) into wins.”

NOTES: Bears DL Mitch Unrein (concussion) and DB Alan Ball (hand) were sidelined by injuries. … The Bears reached double digits in losses in consecutive years for the first time since they did it from 1997 through 2000.


AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL


Jay Cohen can be reached at https://www.twitter.com/jcohenap

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