LAKE FOREST – Week after week, critics have ripped Bears running back Michael Bush for his struggles to score in short yardage this season.
Yet, after Bush rumbled 40 yards for a touchdown last week against Cleveland, he heard from fans who were unhappy that he scored instead of falling down to run out the clock.
Don’t score: Catch heat. Score: Catch heat.
“I can’t win this year,” Bush said with a smile and a sigh as he stood in front of his locker at Halas Hall. “It’s just the way it is. But it’s all good.”
It’s all good now, at least, as the Bears prepare to play the Philadelphia Eagles.
But it hasn’t always been that way.
This story begins about a month ago, when Bush was mired in one of the toughest stretches of his career. Bush never left the sideline Oct. 20 against the Washington Redskins, and in the four games that followed, he carried the ball 19 times for 25 yards.
Keep in mind that this was the same running back who tallied 1,395 yards from scrimmage and eight touchdowns in 2011 as a member of the Oakland Raiders.
It seemed like a good time to ask Bush about his season.
Bush shook his head, politely declining. He kept standing there, silently shaking his head. At that point, the moment summed up his season more than any words could have.
So when Bush agreed to talk this week, I wondered about his lowest point of the season.
“It’s not just one,” Bush said. “It’s collective.”
How did he cope?
“It was basically not taking my frustration home,” Bush said. “But, like I said, I’m over it.”
Bush, 29, signed a four-year deal with the Bears in 2012 and was billed as a valuable complement for Forte in the running game. He rushed for 411 yards last season, the lowest total since he entered the league as a fourth-round pick out of Louisville.
This year, Bush said, he has experienced “the true backup role.” He is on pace for 61 carries for 189 yards this season – by far the worst production of his six-year career.
“It took me some time,” Bush said. “Because I’m a competitor. I love to compete. But I’m fine. We’re winning. I’ve got a great chance to go to the playoffs for the first time in my career. So I can’t complain too much about it.”
Yet plenty of Bears fans have complained about Bush. They still are.
Check out some of the comments that popped up on Twitter after Bush’s touchdown run against the Browns. The score gave the Bears a 14-point lead with 2:17 to go in the game.
@KaleMeMaybe: If Michael Bush sits down on his [expletive] after getting the first down this game is over
@_craigtweets: Michael Bush was stupid to score. Fall down and take three knees.
@DonSoula: If u slid after got 1st down, instead of selfish TD glory, game over with kneel downs. THINK!
“I know people are saying I should have went down, but hey, we were up 7,” Bush said. “I felt like, make it a two-possession game with under 2 minutes left. They had no timeouts.”
At least Bush has his teammates in his corner.
Bears rookie right guard Kyle Long smiled as he discussed Bush’s running style.
“He’s a bad man,” Long said. “When we see him in the huddle and when we know it’s a run play and we know he’s the only back, we get fired up because we know somebody’s going to get fired on in the linebacker position.
“He’s a stud. He runs angry.”
“He’s been grinding every single day,” Bears left tackle Jermon Bushrod said. “Whenever his number is called, he’s doing a great job of coming in. The longer the season goes, the more the grind continues, the more we’re going to have to run the ball as much as possible.”
In a blink, Bush could go from an afterthought to one of the Bears’ most important players. He didn’t want to consider the hypothetical – no player likes to talk about injuries – but the possibility exists that Forte could go down and Bush could have to step in.
“You never know,” Bush said. “But Matt’s doing a [heck] of a job this year, so hopefully he’ll go to the Pro Bowl off of his performance. Coach has been putting him in the right position to make a lot of plays, and he’s capitalizing on it.
“I just want a chance to play in the playoffs. I’m happy with that.”
• Shaw Media sports columnist Tom Musick can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @tcmusick.