A long journey across the Atlantic wasn’t about to slow down Matt Forte.
Bringing his multifaceted game to a new audience in England, Forte ran for 145 yards and a touchdown, and the Chicago Bears held on to beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 24-18 on Sunday in the fifth annual NFL regular-season game at Wembley Stadium.
Jay Cutler threw for 226 yards and a touchdown, and the Bears (4-3) intercepted Josh Freeman four times for their second win in a row. The Buccaneers (4-3) lost for the second time in three years in London.
Forte, who came to London with a league-leading 908 combined yards rushing and receiving, also had two catches Sunday for 38 yards, bringing his total to 1,089. Forte is the first player to go over 1,000 yards after seven games since Priest Holmes and Tiki Barber in 2004.
“He’s the best player in the NFL right now,” said Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher, who had one of Chicago’s interceptions. “The guy’s a complete football player — production every week. You look at everything he’s done this year and it’s amazing. He makes plays on the run and the pass every game.”
Freeman threw two TD passes in the final period to pull the Bucs within three points midway through the fourth quarter. But after a 25-yard field goal by Chicago’s Robbie Gould, Freeman was picked off for the fourth time with 37 seconds left by D.J. Moore.
“I was pretty much where I was supposed to be,”Mooresaid. “Ball is up for grabs, you go for it.”
Tampa Bay’s loss completed a miserable day for the Glazer family, owners of the Bucs and Manchester United. Earlier, the Glazers were on hand at Old Trafford as the English Premier League champions were thrashed 6-1 by crosstown rival Manchester City. The Glazers came straight down to London for the NFL game and ended up 0-2 for the day.
The Bucs lost to New England 35-7 in London two years ago.
“The problem with us is we’re too young,” Bucs coach Raheem Morris said. “We’re foolish. … There’s no excuses, no explanations, no travel excuses, no time zone excuses, whatever you want to call it.”
While the Bucs came to London early in the week to acclimate themselves, the Bears arrived only on Friday. It didn’t seem to hurt.
“We should be one of the teams going over and showing our brand of football internationally,”Chicago coach Lovie Smith said. “You’re never excited about flying for eight hours, but the players handled it well.”
Attendance was 76,981, short of a sellout in the 82,000-capacity Wembley. It’s the first time since the NFL began playing regular-season games here five years ago that tickets haven’t sold out. Organizers blamed the NFL lockout, which meant the game wasn’t officially confirmed and tickets put on sale until a few months ago — rather than at the beginning of the year as in the past.
Still, the game provided plenty of action, as well as plenty of turnovers, penalties and some unusual moments — including when a male fan ran onto the field, ripped off his shirt and high-fived players before being tackled by security guards.
“We had a squirrel on the field. We had a streaker on the field, so it was a great experience,” said Bears receiver Roy Williams, who caught a 25-yard TD pass from Cutler.
Forte was already over 100 yards rushing midway through the second quarter. He broke through the right side of the Bucs defense and cut back across the field for a weaving 32-yard TD run that put the Bears ahead in the first.
“When you get the opportunity to make a big play you’ve got to make the most of it,” Forte said. “I’ve got to take advantage of every time I get into the open field to make a big play.”
Forte also ended up in his own end zone a few minutes later, tackled for a safety by Ronde Barber. That capped a quirky sequence of back-to-back interceptions. First, Tanard Jackson picked off a ball that went through Marion Barber’s hands and returned it 42 yards to theChicago21. On the next play, Freeman hit Mike Williams over the middle at the goal line, but Chicago safety Chris Conte wrestled the ball out of his arms for a takeaway.
Freeman finished 29 of 51 for 264 yards and two touchdowns. Cutler was 17 of 32 with two interceptions.
The Bucs had to rely on the pass after losing running back Earnest Graham in the first quarter to a right ankle injury. He was starting for the second straight week in place of LeGarrette Blount, who was out with a knee injury.
“With Graham going out, we had to change our game plan completely,” Freeman said.