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Running men

CHICAGO -- The Chicago Bears got off the bus running out the clock.

Three yards here, 2 yards there. It was a thing of beauty, if you like your football quick and boring.

The Bears played like they had dinner reservations at Topolobampo and a limo idling outside the stadium, but they won, so it's all good.

The desperate Bears, losers of six of seven coming in, stopped the bleeding with an ugly 17-9 win over the woeful St. Louis Rams.

Mercifully, the game, in which more than half of the possessions (14 of 27) ended in a punt, took just 2 hours, 47 minutes.

"Any time you get 38 rushes, it's a good day for our team," Bears coach Lovie Smith said.

Any time these Bears (5-7) get a win, it's a good day. And there haven't been many good days this season. Victory Mondays have been as common this season as eloquent Jay Cutler sound bites and 100-yard Matt Forte games. So, to sum it up: It wasn't a good win, but it was a win.

Sure, the Bears have only beaten three bottom-feeders, one mediocre team (Seattle) and one schizo team (Pittsburgh), and haven't always looked good doing so, but after a November to forget, the Bears were in no mood for self-examination or consternation.

"Winning's always positive," Alex Brown said.

The Bears looked good on defense, even missing the irreplaceable Lance Briggs, but they didn't score many style points on offense. Still, they survived, and at this point, that's good enough. This team has virtually no chance of making the playoffs and a very outside chance of finishing with a winning record, but they're paid to compete and this game was almost a no-win situation. If the Bears won big, it's because the Rams stink. If the Bears lost, the calls for head-rolling would have intensified.

An ugly win still counts in the standings and at home, as Tommie Harris put it into proper perspective.

"It's good for the psyche to get a win," he said, "and my lady will be much happier when I get home."

Most of the 50,000-and-change who showed up for this unappealing game -- there were more than 7,000 no-shows -- watched Forte and Kahlil Bell run for 3 yards a pop while Cutler was handcuffed after a successful first quarter (4-for-7, 131 yards) because of an injured finger.

You could see Cutler wave off medical concern about his injury on the sidelines, and he finished the game, burnishing his reputation as a tough guy. He threw only nine times in the last three quarters, setting career lows for attempts and completions for a full game. But he still managed to fire a 3-yard touchdown pass to Earl Bennett, for the receiver's first career TD.

"[The finger] was bothering him, and he toughed it out," Bears offensive coordinator Ron Turner said. "It had an effect on him and on what we did."

"I just dinged it a little bit," Cutler said. "I will be fine."

At first glance, it looked like the Bears were going to stretch the field on the hapless 1-11 Rams. Cutler's first pass was a 48-yard bomb to Devin Hester, who climbed the ladder to haul it in. He then got a pass interference call that moved the ball 35 yards to St. Louis' 2-yard line, setting up Forte's 1-yard rush. Cutler connected with Bennett on a 71-yard run-and-catch with a perfectly thrown ball up the middle. That was about it for highlights for No. 6.

Cutler went 0-for-3 in the second quarter and completed just four passes in the second half. He finished 8-for-17 for 143 yards. It shouldn't have taken 12 games for Bennett, a main target all season, to get his first career touchdown, but the Bears' red zone offensive play calling is about as easy to decipher as a Sarah Palin sentence.

Buoyed by a few nice runs in the fourth, Forte finished with 91 yards on 24 carries, while Bell ran 11 times for 35 yards. Forte had 10 carries for 23 yards in the first half, including a 1-yard touchdown run, and seven for 26 in the third quarter. Given how disappointing his second season has gone, Forte was happy with his game

"It was very encouraging," said Forte, who has angered fantasy football fans from coast to coast with his lack of production, not to mention the reality football fans in Chicago. "We ran the ball very well, and they blocked really well up front."

Like a rush-hour commuter, Forte said he knows he needs to be more decisive when there aren't open lanes. But even in this game, he was dancing before hitting the holes.

"Sometimes when holes are not there, you have to make a hole for yourself and be more aggressive," he said of his performance this season.

And despite the self-praise, to call this "Chicago Bear football" is a little misleading. The running game isn't where it should be (seven rushing first downs on 38 carries), which is why the Bears are where they are, on the outside looking in. They couldn't even run the clock out properly, giving St. Louis a final possession and a chance to tie the game.

Forte had two long runs (15 and 12 yards) to start each of the Bears' last two possessions, neither of which burned off enough clock. The Rams got the ball back, after using two timeouts during a failed Bears drive, with 1:50 to play. If a quarterback more capable than Kyle Boller was out there, it would have been trouble for a banged-up defense. But Boller's inability to create offense was reason enough for the Bears to play it conservatively in the first place, so it didn't end up mattering as St. Louis gained 37 yards on nine plays, ending the drive at the Bears' 41.

"We didn't want to make mistakes," Turner said, referencing some run-run-run first-half possessions, but really speaking about the entire game plan. "We knew they weren't going to score on our defense the way they were playing. Where we were on the field, that dictated our running game."

The maligned offensive line got a bit of a shake-up, with Chris Williams sliding over to left tackle in lieu of the injured Orlando Pace and Kevin Shaffer replacing Williams. Williams got chewed up by Chris Long on one of Cutler's two sacks, allowing the former No. 1 pick to bury Cutler face-first in the sod. But other than that, he looked OK. Overall, the line held its own.

"It was great to be out there running the football," guard Roberto Garza said. "Obviously, [linemen] want to be able to hit some people. We just wanted to continue to get first downs and get points."

The Bears got six rushing first downs in the second half after just one in the first. Last week against Minnesota, the Bears had no rushing first downs. This week they had only four passing first downs.

"For us, out in the elements, on a day like today, you need to be able to win the football game," Smith said. "You need to be able to run the football, and that's what we did today."

To a man, the Bears were just happy to win, and they deserve a day off from media criticism. It isn't every day a football team in Chicago is asked to play in 30-degree weather and beat a one-win team.

"It was good to get a W," Cutler said. "It feels like it's been a long time. It wasn't the prettiest game, but we pulled it out."

Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.