Howard, Bears run game show signs of life vs. Vikings
Never mind that the Bears’ opening formation featured a trio of tight ends and Tarik Cohen at running back. Forget that seldom-used Taquan Mizzell received a carry that maybe, instead, should have gone to the team’s top rusher the last two years.
The Bears’ statement game Sunday on prime time against the Minnesota Vikings at Soldier Field included a heavy dose of, yes, the seemingly forgotten Jordan Howard.
The third-year running back didn’t start for the first time this season, but it mattered little. On a 33-degree night in their NFC North showdown, the Bears broke out their running game in the opening half. It also included the speedy Cohen and the elusive Mitchell Trubisky.
“I felt like Jordan and I were challenged this week (by the coaching staff),” Cohen said. “This is a stout run defense. They haven’t had a 100-yard rusher on them, and we took that as a challenge. We came out and ran the ball harder than we’ve ever done.”
A player still hasn’t rushed for 100 yards against Minnesota’s defense this season, but for one half of football Howard was nearly on pace to do it.
“They definitely challenged us,” Howard said. “Watching film and seeing all the stats, (the Vikings) were shutting the running game down. We wanted to come out and prove that we can run the ball.”
The Bears’ running game might have been as good as it has been all season during a 13-play, 82-yard drive that Trubisky finished with an 18-yard pass to Anthony Miller, who made a shoestring catch in the end zone from 18 yards out with six minutes left in the second quarter. It was the only touchdown of the half, as the Bears took a 14-0 lead into the break en route to a 25-20 victory that hiked their record to 7-3 and maintained their first-place status.
The drive, interestingly enough, started with Mizzell losing 1 yard on just his second rush of the season. Soon enough, however, it was Howard doing what he did plenty of the last two seasons before head coach Matt Nagy arrived with his hardcover book of passing plays. Running between the guards, Howard churned out runs of 5, 6, 6 and 8 yards. Trubisky scrambled for gains of 6 and 13 yards, and picked up nine more on a designed run. A pair of Trubisky runs netted first downs, while Howard picked up one.
“When the quarterback scrambles, it’s hard,” Vikings linebacker Eric Wilson said. “He’s not only scrambling, he’s juking guys.”
By halftime, Howard had 46 rushing yards on 10 carries, and the Bears had outrushed the Vikings 115 yards to 20.
“Jordan being a physical, dominant runner,” Trubisky said. “Seeing the hole, hitting it and being aggressive.”
“I was just being aggressive, taking the holes they gave me and trying to hit the crease as hard as I could,” Howard said.
Mind you, the two-time 1,000-yard rusher came into the game averaging just 3.4 yards per carry and had 460 yards on the ground. After rushing 252 times as a rookie and 276 times last year (5.2 and 4.1 yards per carry, respectively), Howard entered Sunday with just 137 carries.
Cohen flashed too, busting off a 21-yard gain on second-and-21 from the Bears 14 early in the third quarter. His fumble early in the fourth quarter, however, led to Dan Bailey’s 36-yard field goal that pulled the Vikings within 14-6.
Howard fell short of his first 100-yard rushing game of the season, as he finished with 63 yards on 18 carries (3.5 average). It mattered little, however, because the Bears delivered on their statement game. Trubisky added 43 yards on 10 rushes.
“A lot of the big-name teams, like the Patriots, we could have beaten but we didn’t for some reason,” Howard, who also was effective in blitz pickup, said after the Bears outrushed the Vikings 148 yards to 22. “But I felt like this game was a good steppingstone for us to show people that we’re legit.”